The Summer Is Gone
Shot in sumptuous black-and-white, debut filmmaker Zhang presents a melancholy recreation of the end of an era unaffected by market forces. A sleepy provincial town in the 1990s to the west of Peking. Twelve-year-old Xiaolei and his friends start out on an endless summer, during which his parents’ cares gradually become apparent to him.
It’s the early 1990s and Xiaolei has just finished primary school. He is looking forward to the long, hot summer in the provincial town in northern China where he lives. As he daydreams, spies on the girl next door and visits the cinema, Chinese political reforms play out in the background: a lot of state companies are being privatised. This means that Xiaolei’s father, who works at a film studio, could lose his job. In the meantime, his mother wants her son to attend a prestigious secondary school.
In Zhang Dalei’s remarkably mature feature debut, these family dynamics are shot from an appropriate distance, largely in black-and-white. This results in a sense of nostalgia that does not romanticise China’s turbulent past but rather presents it in a highly effective visual way, as for instance towards the end of the film, when it starts to rain. Summer is over, the epiphyllum is in flower and the watermelons are ripe. China is embarking upon a new chapter.