Dust in the Abyss [Hongnian Yu, China, 2019]


Inspired by several real life stories, Dust in the Abyss tells the tragic tale of a wife struggling with the imminent loss of her third husband, who, just like the previous two, has developed pneumoconiosis from working in a mine. Moving from frustration to despair, this film captures the arbitrary cruelty of human lives lost in endless bureaucracy.


This film has a strong start, with a well-shot scene of the helpless protagonists confronting the useless doctor. Although perhaps a bit on the hammy side, the acting does well to convey how brutally unfair the situation is.


That said, the raw emotions expressed by the actors may have been more impactful if we knew more about Juan Qin, Hai Chen and their relationship. High-octane bursts of misery, such as the scene of the axe and the coffin, could have been even more climactic if they were backed up by more substantial characters. For instance, it is briefly mentioned that they have a daughter, and this supposedly makes the story even more terrible. However, the viewer only sees her at the very end. It is difficult to stoke real emotion and empathy in such isolation, and no amount of slow piano and strings can change that.


Nonetheless, the film still packs a powerful punch. Particularly arresting and heart breaking are the photos of the real families just before the credits. This adds a dose of reality that the thinly sketched protagonists lack, and gives the short the punch of real emotional heft that it needs. It may not hit home as hard as it could, but Dust in the Abyss shines a light on the personal tragedies faced by many mining families in China.

'Dust in the Abyss' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.

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