Caligari Film Prize, 2021 Berlin International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2021 DMZ International Documentary Film Festival
The river in A RIVER RUNS, TURNS, ERASES, REPLACES is no ordinary river. It is the near-mythic Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, and 45 million years old. For filmmaker Shengze Zhu, the Yangtze is also the backdrop of her hometown, a murmur sneaking into every memory, daily routine, and hope for the future.
But this is no ordinary hometown. It is Wuhan, where the early frenzied canary calls about COVID-19 forever altered its place in the world. Shot during visits from 2016-2019, Zhu’s film is a contemplative memento mori, where homesickness and sickness regard each other against the Yangtze’s neverending flow and Wuhan’s neverending construction.
Zhu opens with extended security footage from Wuhan’s 2020 lockdown, horns blazing, streets empty. It is the lone electric timestamp from a year we know all too well. From here, the film unfolds backwards in time with everyday scenes moving at everyday speed. Seniors waltzing by the riverside. Construction, bulldozers, demolition. Uncannily submerged pagodas. Futuristic light shows. Wuhan’s buildings loom like giant sequoias, and morning swimmers slip into the river’s massive swell. Zhu asks us to simply gaze, listen and synchronize with the vastness before us. Every so often, heartbreaking messages unfurl onscreen to lost loved ones. One reassures her dead husband: she has finally learned how to chop a chicken. Filled with the quiet stillness of a landscape painting, Zhu’s film lets us sit, exhale, absorb, grieve, and release, next to a river so old as to be timeless, a silent witness to our small, superhuman fractions of life.