The Fall (China, 2018)

After working in a coal mine and on a ship for over ten years, Zhou Lidong became a businessman. At the age of fifty, he started to find business boring and the idea of making a film slowly took root. The Fall is produced and directed by Zhou who also plays Lin, the main character in the story. Largely based on his own experience, a man in his fifties in a harsh business world, it is a tale of struggle against despair and numbness through life’s challenges and disillusion. “Twenty years of life is a season, we are all people who fall into the autumn.”

The story itself is not so much a story but more a view on a series of trivial events taking place in the life of a man who has reached middle age and how he copes with the changes. A big bird flies against his office window providing a metaphor for Lin’s incessant malaise, palpable like that of a rough texture. Most of the time, he doesn’t show much emotion and seems to be going through a depression. Filmed in documentary style, the scenario is sincere and stripped down: at first, the viewer could likely find it bland or tedious until realizing the many subtleties giving a clue into Lin’s complex nature.

Lin has a wife, a son, cars, a nice apartment and a mistress and goes to work every day. He goes out with friends for a drink, watches TV and chats online. His friends are envious of him, in their eyes he’s a successful businessman who can afford to send his wife overseas. His days are mundane and totally unimpressive and the lengthy camera shots on monotonous office meeting or soulless backdrops succeed in conveying that notion. One day, he signs a contract with a big company which fails to pay him on time and from week to week make promises that they don’t keep.  He meets with the boss, Mr. Song, and tries to appeal to his sense of justice but to no avail; Mr. Song tells him he has to join the queue of his many creditors. His business is slowly going bankrupt and his long-time employee resigns and goes back to his village with his pregnant wife. But it is Zhou’s inherent belief that “…in the criteria of the middle class, money is just one component. There is something less material such as the way you treat people with honesty instead of deceit.” Zhou conveys this through many interesting clips: an apple with a sticker concealing a black spot or a sign discovered under the table by a jobseeker which says: “Honesty is your best weapon”.

Meanwhile, two other people in his life leave him:  his son passes the exam and goes to study in the United States while his mistress tells him she’s expecting someone else’s baby and is going to marry the father. Throughout these events, Lin doesn’t get sad or angry, he just seems to accept whatever life throws at him with a strange passivity. But change does happen and you find out from small details interspersed throughout. He begins to fight the dishonesty he so dislikes and is willing to accept the consequence of his decisions. He refuses to pay 10 yuan for a parking space below his apartment and returns to a car splashed with noodles. He is willing to take small steps towards a more optimistic future, quits smoking and starts wearing brighter clothes. He even buys a metal dragon from a street merchant to express his newly found strength.

Inspired by the words of the writer Liu Xiaofeng, Zhou made this film to “comfort people’s soul and in the process to comfort one’s own soul and embrace life’s challenges”. In all respects, this director has achieved his goal.