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BERLINALE 2024 Encounters

Review: Some Rain Must Fall

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- BERLINALE 2024: Qiu Yang's first feature is a cryptic character story that allows for as many interpretations as there are viewers, but the high-quality craft will keep them in their seats

Review: Some Rain Must Fall
Yu Aier in Some Rain Must Fall

For many audiences, Chinese director Qiu Yang's first feature, Some Rain Must Fall, which has just world-premiered in the Berlinale's Encounters section, will only really start after it ends. It takes a freak incident for the film's heroine to slowly start peeling off the layers of her past and the hidden aspects of her personality. Low-key in atmosphere, subtly ambiguous and at times mysterious, it is a haunting piece for connoisseurs of challenging, cryptic cinema.

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Middle-aged Cai (Yu Aier) is a housewife in a family that belongs to China's new, “upwardly mobile” middle class. She is divorcing her husband, cold businessman Ding (Wei Yibo), and taking care of her ailing mother-in-law (Cao Yuqiang), and when she goes to pick up her teenage daughter Lin (Di Shike) after a school basketball game, she accidentally hurts the grandmother of one of the girl's classmates, who ends up in hospital.

Slowly, Yang starts developing Cai's character through family dynamics and societal relations. Her husband and also her, to a certain extent, feel they are better than the boy's family – Ding calls them "fucking peasants", and Cai tells Lin to stay away from the kid, as "he is not one of us". At one point, the girl brings him home after his family has kicked him out. On top of this, Lin doesn't want to play on the school's basketball team, which will lower her points for university admission – a status symbol for her parents. Meanwhile, Cai is subjected to strange attacks: someone throws mud at her car, or they try to steal groceries from the boot.

As the mother-in-law's birthday approaches, we realise that there might be something more to the relationship between their housekeeper (Gu Tingxiu) and Cai, but like most aspects of the narrative, it is so subtle that we can't be sure what we saw. Her relationship with her body and sexuality is clearly a sore and complex point, but also remains opaque.

Cai is definitely suffering and blaming herself – but why, exactly, we don't know. She is concerned about the old lady she has hurt, but the true reasons for this perhaps lie in her past, and we will only get morsels of them, without being sure that we can really trust them.

The key aspects that lend the film its shape, besides Yang's cryptic screenplay, are German DoP Constanze Schmit's cinematography, the locations and the colour-grading. Filmed in the 4:3 aspect ratio, the characters are distant from the always-fixed or panning camera, cut off by door frames or windows. When they are closer, we frequently only see one-third of their faces. This may signify a lack of emotional connection – but what this is the result of will again depend on the viewer.

A yellow hue dominates the film, whether it is the street lighting or the lamps in the family flat. A certain greyish-bluish tone is more prevalent in the scenes in liminal spaces, such as the school gym or hospital corridors. The music and sound design are exclusively diegetic, a choice clearly intended to allow viewers to have their own interpretation of Cai's character and life story.

There are elements that imply Cai is not a reliable central character (a man in the chemist warns her about the pills she is taking), but for the invested viewer – and the high-quality craft of the film does invite one to stay with it – toying with these questions will certainly pay off.

Some Rain Must Fall is a co-production involving Singapore's Wild Grass Films, France's Why Not Productions, the USA's Cinema Inutile and the UK's Good Chaos. Goodfellas has the international rights. 

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