Great Expectations in Qiu Yang’s, She Runs

August 3, 2019

After becoming the first ever Chinese director to take home the Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for A Gentle Night (2017), Qiu Yang returns to the short silver screen with She Runs (2019). Recipient of the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at Cannes Critics Week, Qui’s latest release is a richly shot study of a teenager forced into gymnastics. Yu (Xue Jiayi) is at a presumably competitive school on an aerobics scholarship, that she reluctantly accepted, at her father’s insistence. In a world where decisions are made between parents and schools officials, Yu is exhausted at the enthusiasm she is expected to have for a sport she never wanted to participate in. She begins to self-destruct: faking injuries, skipping training and smoking cigarettes. How far will she go to quit?

Shot in a cropped ratio, the film locks its protagonist at centre frame. The exquisitely composed short keeps the dissenting voices of her father and teacher off screen, as they pull and push Yu to her physical and mental limits. The tension of slow zoom builds until it reaches its static crescendo, in a thriller fit for Hitchcock.

The story is drawn from Qiu’s own experience in his schools marching band, and the hierarchy between old and young was reflected in pre-production. Parents and school officials, not seeing the value in participating in a short film, made casting a “nightmare.” Xue Jiayi delivers a naturalist and believable performance, as Qiu’s preference for non-professional actors in his small-for-China hometown of Changzhou imbues the film with a deeply local feel to it. Qiu describes Changzhou as a city with no characteristics, thereby giving it a universalising component that will resonate throughout mainland China.

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