Jian Fan’s documentary Still Tomorrow is an unpretentious, haunting film about poet Xiahua Yu. Like the poems written by Ms. Yu, this film never tries to win you over. It simply presents its case with such dignity that you surrender to it of your own accord.
Yu came to national attention in 2015 when her poem Cross Half Of China To Sleep With You went viral online. This is not a love poem but a fantasy created by a woman deeply unhappy within her current relationship. Yu’s striking imagery and introspection have caused her to be labeled “the Emily Dickinson of China”.
Fan’s film deals less with Yu’s rise to fame than its repercussions. He hints at the details of Yu’s early life as opposed to stating them. At times, watching this film feels like sitting while a painter completes a canvas. It is a portrait, not a biopic.
Even so, an alert viewer will note the most relevant items of information. Yu, born with cerebral palsy, has little formal education. She finds solace in reading and writing poetry. At age nineteen, she enters into an arranged marriage with a laborer, Yin Shiping.
Now, twenty years later, Yu wants a divorce. The sales of her work afford her a modicum of financial independence. Even so, her traditional parents oppose the divorce. Her son, who is not in the film due to his studies at a distant school, has yet to weigh in. Mr. Yin seems to feel that he has worked hard for many years without receiving the proper appreciation.
Writer/ director Fan (who also did the cinematography with Ming Xue) intersperses the family drama with shots of Yu’s home, Hubei Province. Many of the nature scenes are accompanied by quotes from her poems. It is not hard to see where Yu gets much of her inspiration.
Still Tomorrow played several documentary film festivals between November 16, 2016 and June 9, 2017. At the moment, it is not scheduled for further release. Let us hope that changes. Yu’s growing self-awareness and her determined fight for personal independence merit a wider audience.
Theme: Films About Poets
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