Three people struggling for their dreams in the melting pot of Beijing showed the complex transition of China in ‘Underground Fragrance,’ a film by Chinese director Song Pengfei presented at the Venice International Film Festival this week.The characters include Yong Le, a young migrant worker from the south who salvages furniture to resell. He lives in a room in Beijing’s Underground City, a labyrinthine former bomb shelter that serves as cheap housing for people looking for opportunity in the big city.
Xiao Yun is also a migrant. A pole dancer at night, she lives in the same building as Le and meet him after a bad accident leaves him temporarily blind. Their burgeoning relationship encourages her to hunt for a more respectable job.
Meanwhile, at ground level, Old Jin is struggling to get a decent compensation deal from the authorities who want to demolish his house. But his health is declining and his savings are evaporating.
In the film, the underground and surface become metaphors of a society undergoing complete transformation, Song said. He said his film was nothing but a reflection of reality, with the surface and the underground, the demolition and the flow of drifters representing the people and the things of Beijing like a cross-structure.
Song’s camera paid particular attention to younger generations, which appear determined to move upwards socially, no matter the cost.
“Many young people in China do not keep their feet on the ground. They can easily change direction as they see an easy path for success, instead of focusing on something to forge their future,” Song told Xinhua in an interview at the Lido of Venice.
“Young generations need to be encouraged to pursue their dreams with concrete dedication and commitment,” he said. “I got the inspiration through the life of those that are around me. The end of the film emerges from those impressions and feelings.”‘Underground Fragrance’ was the first feature film for the young director, who was born in a family linked to the Beijing opera scene and studied film direction at the Institut Internationalde l’Image et du Son in France.
His international experience helped Song find the inspiration for Underground Fragrance. “While I was studying in France, I found there was a special attention for the quality of cinema there,” he said while stressing the responsibility that directors have, especially when abroad,in presenting their own countries to the world.
“I liked this film very much as it makes a picture of the Chinese society as a whole. For example, it shows the economic problems of citizens and their daily difficulties,” Maria Cristina Lenarduzzi, member of local cultural circle, told Xinhua after watching the film at the Lido of Venice. Those presented in the film, she noted, are aspects of China that are not so known in western countries and deserve to be learnt.
“‘Underground Fragrance’ describes the rapid evolution of nowadays’ China, with its social and human relations, and the disparities caused by such a fast economic and urban development,” said another spectator, Massimo Belluzzo.
“I regularly watch Chinese films, I have seen many of them, and it seems to me that ‘Underground Fragrance’ has especially insisted on social aspects. It belongs to a new trend of realist films in China that I think are of great importance and interest,” he added.
“In fact good films are a treasure for society,” said Ying Ze, who plays Xiao Yun and is also its co-producer. She has a diploma from the London School of Economics, and ‘Underground Fragrance’ was the first time that she had a first role in a feature film.
Ying told Xinhua in an interview that films with an artistic value have also the power to propose the good aspects of change and transformation. Herself a Chinese girl with doubts and contradictions, just like her character, Ying recalled that she also went through a period when she felt “lost” and did not know what to do with her life.