A Review of Lou Ye’s Docufiction ‘An Unfinished Film’ Chronicling Covid

Lou Ye’s latest offering at the Cannes Film Festival, ‘An Unfinished Film’, delves into a nostalgic exploration intertwined with a lockdown thriller narrative. Like Jia Zhangke’s ‘Caught by the Tides’, this film marks another instance of a sixth-generation Chinese filmmaker repurposing past works to craft something novel. 

Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, Lou authentically uncovers old footage, leading viewers through a journey where a fictitious film crew strives to complete an abandoned project. However, China’s stringent COVID-19 restrictions disrupt not only their work but also the natural flow of life.

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Lou Ye An Unfinished Film
Image Courtesy: Variety

The film aptly captures the disorienting effects of COVID-19 on time perception, portraying how abrupt shifts in routines and emotions elongated and compressed time simultaneously during the pandemic’s early stages. 

Through the director character Xiaorui, portrayed by Mao Xiaorui, Lou’s assistant director, the narrative revisits an unfinished indie drama featuring actor Jiang Cheng (played by Lou’s frequent collaborator Qin Hao), who becomes the focal point of ‘An Unfinished Film’.

Lou Ye An Unfinished Film
Image Courtesy: Getty Images

The film expertly juxtaposes the characters’ linear perception of time with the evolving reality outside. Days blur into hours, weeks morph into months, and societal shifts unfold, depicted through new rituals and observed dangers from their confined spaces. Real viral videos, including those about whistleblowers, add a layer of authenticity to the narrative. The film’s engaging multi-screen montage, set to a poignant acoustic cover of ‘The Fiery Sarlang’, stands out as a moving portrayal of resilience amidst adversity.

By seamlessly blending reality and dramatisation, ‘An Unfinished Film’ evokes a raw emotional journey rarely achieved in pandemic-themed cinema. Lou Ye crafts not only a character-driven drama but also a testament to human adaptability and collective strength in the face of unprecedented challenges.

-Sushmita Sarkar