Cast: Fan Wei, Liu Haocun, Zhang Yi
Closing Film, 2021 Toronto International Film Festival
Best Director, Best Newcomer, 2021 Asian Film Awards
In a northern desert town during the Cultural Revolution, a screening has been scheduled for the 1965 propaganda film Heroic Sons and Daughters. For this faraway town, the screening is the kind of event villagers drop everything for, to pack the house like it’s a New Year’s celebration. Every square inch is occupied, with movielovers squished together on both sides of the screen, some even sitting on open window sills, for the rare chance to be at the movies. Set to precede the film is a newsreel, a report on national events, that is screened to inspire Maoist principles. For one mysterious man (Zhang Yi), the screening has other meanings. Never named, we learn that he has recently escaped from a labor camp just to catch a glimpse of his estranged daughter, whom he was told appears in the newsreel. After the disappearance of some film reels sets off a comically disastrous sequence of events, the fugitive does everything in his power to make sure the screening runs smoothly, so that he can finally see his daughter.
ONE SECOND—delayed for two years after it was initially set to premiere at Berlinale, for reasons likely due to censorship—has been affectionately referred to as Zhang Yimou’s love letter to cinema. It movingly demonstrates the innate power of the image and all that we seek out at the movies, from the film itself to the faces that behold its splendor. Zhang may be best known for his spectacular historical dramas (Raise the Red Lantern) and wuxia epics (Hero), but the spectacle here is in the projection booth, where strips of film unspool stories and electric shadows capture the imagination of an audience crammed together in a dark auditorium.