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CANNES 2021 Special Screenings

Yé Yé • Director of H6

“I wanted to show the behaviour of the Chinese towards life, death and love”


- CANNES 2021: The Chinese-French director breaks down her new documentary film, which she shot in a large hospital in Shanghai

Yé Yé  • Director of H6

H6 [+see also:
interview: Yé Yé
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is a documentary by Chinese-French director Yé Yé, presented as a Special Screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival. She visited the No 6 People's Hospital in Shanghai and followed a series of protagonists, including both patients and doctors. In a sensitive, but not sentimental, way, she shows the different hardships of these individuals. Not only does she give a valuable insight into the Chinese health system, but she also portrays these people’s particular social behaviours and attitudes towards life. We talked to the director about her approach to the topic and her relationships with her protagonists.

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Cineuropa: How did the film come about, and how did you find the hospital you shot the movie at?
Yé Yé:
There was a period when I was ill and had to go to hospital in France. I realised then how the attitude towards illness, death and human relationships was different between French and Chinese people. This inspired me to do some research and try to capture the Chinese particularities, based on the context of medicine. I began to collect experiences from friends and family, then I learned that there was the production of a documentary series going on in the No 6 People's Hospital in Shanghai. It is a series for TV that aims to inform people about the different dynamics and requirements for patients and doctors. The series intends to show what lies behind the misunderstandings between the two groups, which have been subject to public discussion in the past. It was a chance to follow the shooting of the series and to make my own film in parallel with this. The contact with the people was much less complicated than it would have been otherwise, since they were already used to the camera. It was easy to get permission, and since I was working with a smaller camera, I also had access to spaces that are not normally easy to gain access to. This specific hospital was great because it's in the centre of Shanghai and takes in a huge variety of people.

How did you choose the individuals you wanted to follow?
While the series was being shot, I looked around and got to know the people in the hospital. I then made a skeleton outline of my project and defined what kind of protagonists I wanted. There had to be people of all ages and from different social classes. I wanted a child, a teenager, an adult, of course, and an old person. But also someone from the middle class or a farmer. Based on this outline, I did my “casting” and chose the protagonists.

Could you sum up how the health system functions in China and why most of the patients have to pay for their healthcare?
There are different systems and different types of health insurance. Some of them bear more of the costs, some less so. In the case of accidents, it depends on the situation, for example. If you have a fall outside of a professional context, it might be that the insurance company doesn't pay out. Also, normally there are fixed rates, but you can choose additional treatments that cost more, and it’s the patients who have to pay. This is the case if you choose imported medical materials, for example.

How did you develop the concept for the film?
I had my skeleton outline ready very quickly. I knew I wanted the movie to have elements of a fiction film. This enabled me to leave out big explanations, and instead to render the experience as best I could. In my opinion, it was more touching this way. At the same time, I wanted to maintain a good distance between me and the protagonists. On a visual level, I searched for pictures of the best possible quality, and I wasn't interested in a specific documentary style. The same goes for the sound and the music I chose. The tone of the film had to be just as joyful as the music of the Japanese band I used.

Do you think it would be difficult to show the film in China?
Actually, I don't think so. I didn't intend to make a critical film. I guess if you look at the situation in a sceptical or critical way, it has to do with the Western experience of the viewer. In fact, what I would like to achieve with the film is to enable the viewer to understand Chinese people better. I wanted to show the behaviour of the Chinese towards life, death and love. The Chinese always try to find balance and a solution to their problems. They're not so pessimistic, but rather more joyful; they have great resilience when it comes to overcoming obstacles. I was very touched by the people I met; they reminded me of my childhood.

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