Set in a military art troupe in 1970s China, Feng Xiaogang’s latest is a coming-of-age story about young people making peace with the past and making the most of the present.
Veteran Chinese director Feng Xiaogang's follow-up to I Am Not Madame Bovary — which enjoyed its triumphant world premiere at last year's Festival — is a sweeping marvel. At once brutal and tender, teeming with characters and history while also deeply intimate and personal, Youth takes us back to the 1970s to find a country and its young people at a point of great tumult and transition.
Youth chronicles the joys and travails of a provincial military-arts troupe, soldiers in the People's Liberation Army whose duty it is to promote culture, revolutionary values, music, and dance. At the centre of the story is He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) a talented dancer from Beijing with a painful family history. Due to her innocence and social status, Xiaoping quickly becomes a scapegoat and laughing stock amongst her peers. As time passes and the group gradually splinters apart, however, her life takes unexpected turns and she emerges a true heroine.
Drawing heart-rending performances from his cast of newcomers, Feng captures the period in dazzling colours and widescreen camerawork that is as expansive and unbridled as I Am Not Madame Bovary's was deliberately constricted. Youth is, after all, about embracing possibility and coming to terms with the knotty nature of freedom, a coming-of-age tale for both its characters and the nation they inhabit. Feng has crafted a masterpiece brimming with fascinating specifics and universal experience.