Day Is Gone by Zhang Dalei Was Shortlisted for Berlinale Shorts

The newly announced list of finalists for Berlinale Shorts of the 71st Berlin International Film Festival included “Day Is Gone”, a short film by Zhang Dalei, a young director in the Chinese mainland.  

“Day Is Gone” was co-produced by FIRST International Film Festival Xining and Lexus, one of formers’ important strategic partners. The film, together with “The Sail of Cinema”, directed by Gu Xiaogang, constitutes a series of shorts of “eastern people’s daily lives”. The two portray two respective stories of the orient, one happens in the south of China and the other happens in the north of China, with two courses of summer days presented by video and image.

This film is a sequel to “The Summer Is Gone”, another feature film by Zhang. It gathers the original cast of “The Summer Is Gone” and continues to present a family story. The story starts on an afternoon when Xiaolei has decided to study abroad. Before his departure, he visited his grandfather with his own works. His always-busy mother intends to take a nap on the sofa after preparing the family’s lunch. Watermelons, apricot trees, and photo albums all become parts of this summer afternoon. The courtyard of grandfather’s home seems in another universe. The flowing wind magically make them soaked in their memories and become all the more nostalgic.


Notes from Zhang Dalei  

Origin of the Film’s Titles Both in English and Chinese  

Zhang Dalei: Chinese title “Xia Wu Guo Qu Le Yi Ban (下午过去了一半)”, originally a poem by Leopoldo Lugones, an Argentine poet, was adapted into a song by Zhong Lifeng, a ballad singer in Chinese mainland. Both the poem and the song make people feel pleasant hours flying away quite fast, and the same feeling is seen in the short film. The English tile “Day Is Gone” borrows its name from a song by Nick Drake, one of my favorite folk singers. With the final days approaching, the sentimental feelings become more intense and direct. The English tile is a perfect explainer for the Chinese version.


Its Relation with “The Summer Is Gone” 

Zhang Dalei: “The Summer Is Gone” is not only a film, but also an integration of time and space. The unique charm is that the relationships, daily life and even lives of the characters in the film naturally extend, and “Day Is Gone” is only part of that extension.

All the leading actors in “The Summer Is Gone” have their roles in “Day Is Gone”, except the actor who played the role of Grandfather for some personal reasons. He is the younger brother of my grandfather in actual life. The staff was quite excited when seeing the play of “The Summer Is Gone”. And it was also the most exciting thing for me. Like the feeling we were cooperating in that film, we were working together like a family reunion rather than that we were “acting and filming”. The scenes were still the same and the plots were not designed to be quite dramatic. I still decided to use the same staff who once again lived a day together in the film. In this sense, what really made them excited was that they would continue to “live” under the same roof.


About “Films within A Film” 

Zhang Dalei: The idea of the work by Xiaolei was put forward by Songye (director of photography in the film). At first, we wanted to produce a short film, just like those shot during my fresh year in university, with only obscurity leading to no one’s understanding but my personal complacency. At first, I filmed them by rolling on the ground. The scene lasted for ten minutes and ended finally, for everything was in a thorough mess and seemed quite obscure. The final version, presented by the swaying of the scene by the movement of a car, could touch the absurdity of the real life. It has associations with a man who shakes his head back and forth by the road. It’s just the mechanized life. The scene fitted quite well in the film, in terms of the whole story line and the state of every character. The coincidence and absurdity can be traced back from the sense of flowing time connoted in the film.


Characterization of Grandfather

Zhang Dalei: I believe that Li Xuejian had fully prepared for the role. He had not only carefully read the play of “Day Is Gone”, but also had watched “The Summer Is Gone”. He seems to have his own personal understanding of the role of “Grandfather” and the connotation of the family.

As for the play and the roles, we often discussed about their intact lives, and sometimes even about the outer reaches of the play. For instance, Grandfather is a retired veteran cadre, who keeps the principle of integrity for his lifetime, while he remains as a farmer in his deeper heart; small uncle is the smartest among all of Grandfather’s kids and he cares for the elderly most. Mr. Li kept silent for most of the time, when listening to my suggestions. On the first day of shooting, he performed two perfections based on his own understanding. Since then, we found the best way for interacting with each other very soon. The whole filming process of his part almost deviated from the framework of the play, as he had already known the story by heart. What was more important was his familiarity with the threads of all the characters and the time.

Mr. Li is so matched with the character that it makes me feel that he is the real grandfather of the family. Many good details are out of his own inspirations, such as the scene when grandfather sits under the apricot tree by his own after seeing off Xiaolei, an apricot falling down. My former designed version is that with the camera following the rolling apricot all the way to the photo album, Grandfather picks up the album and turns to the group photo. The process should involve the cutting-in and cutting-out of the performers. The tiny dispatching intends to be somewhat functional. Mr. Li picks up the album as soon as he sits down. He compares the yard on the photo with the current one. The sudden falling apricot on him makes him lost his train of thought. Then he pauses for a while, holding the apricot on his hand and continuing his recollection. The mental process of Grandfather was presented quite smooth.


Details of Eastern People’s Daily Life 

Zhang Dalei: As a Chinese and easterner, I should have been quite accustomed to all the daily details in the film, while the seemly normal things have all become our memory, with only few existing in real lives. The conception and seizing of details in the film are more like an opportunity for me to feel my memories and the past time, and a realization of my daydream with the camera and sound recorder.

Generally speaking, emotions matter more than details as the former inspired me. I draw a line among all the floating past-day details, either certain or uncertain, in my mind.

The “slowness” is not only presented by the role of “Grandfather”, but also suffuses in the telling of space and the use of scenery shots. In this sense, the importance of characters has been dimmed. There is a long scene in the film where Xiaolei sits inside on the yard alone. What the role wants us to feel is the space. As the camera follows him inside the room when three seniors are sleeping, the intuitive feelings for us is the space they are in, rather than the act of sleeping. What we can feel is the sound of the fan. The mood and atmosphere really matter.

(Original FIRST Short Film Project FIRST International Film Festival, Editor LIU Hui)