An Unfinished Film

Source: Cannes Film Festival

‘An Unfinished Film’

Chinese auteur Lou Ye is on a mission to finish An Unfinished Film, which he is presenting as a Cannes Special Screenings, in a way that he set out to make before the Covid pandemic changed its course. It will exist as a separate film.

He describes the new untitled project as “organic, made in a casual and personal way on a modest budget”. It exists as a separate project to the Cannes title and will contain old and mostly unseen footage from his previous films including Spring Fever, which won best screenplay in Cannes in 2009; Mystery, which premiered in Un Certain Regard in 2012; and The Shadow Play, which premiered at the Golden Horse Film Festival in 2018 before playing in Berlinale’s Panorama.

All these films star Qin Hao as different characters and in different times, reflecting the changes and developments in China over the decade. Filming is also underway for new footage, with the cast also comprising Huang Xuan, Liang Ming and Qi Xi.

As seen in the opening of An Unfinished Film, Lou decided to make use of his old footage when his team found some of it in an old computer in July 2019. But he had to rewrite the script and added a pandemic setting to the story when the pandemic hit a few months later, focusing on the hardships of an actor and his production crew confined in their hotel rooms as a result of the lockdown.

“It’s a very special project as the circumstances kept changing when Covid was unfolding,” said Lou. “It has a documentary feel, with crew including the DoP, lighting and production crew all playing themselves.”

The exception was the role of the director, which is played by Mao Xiaorui, not Lou himself, as he believes “it’s better to keep a distance from the project”. Filming for the majority of the production at the quarantined hotel was conducted in mid-2021 in the city of Nanchang, more than 200km away from Wuhan.

An Unfinished Film is a Singapore-Germany production - his third feature film not credited as a China production - following Spring Fever and Love And Bruises. “This way, we don’t have to worry about censorship,” he explained. ”The Shadow Play has gone through too many troubles. I should spend my time on production instead.”

He admitted that he has to practice some form of self-censorship. “It’s totally impossible not to think about censorship if you want to have a release in China,” he added. ”But the main thing is you don’t know what’s the problem. You can only make changes again and again.”