"The rustling trees and cackling chickens create a natural soundtrack to this rhythmic, beautifully framed documentary, which doesn't shy away from the harsher aspects of this life, far from the madding crowd." - IDFA
A nuanced study of rural China, this visually stunning film flows poetically around the daily lives of three generations -- their chores, prayers, and mundane concerns -- in a secluded mountain village that is nevertheless under the pull of China's monumental transition.
Named for its turtle-shaped rock formation, this mountain village in Hunan, China is where filmmaker Xiao Xiao was raised. A century ago, seven families settled in here after escaping war, and have carved out simple lives ever since. Like other similar villages across China, Turtle Rock (团鱼岩) is on the verge of disappearing. In an effort to capture his home before that happens, Xiao Xiao allows us to bear witness to the lives of its inhabitants across four seasons, and explore the ways in which the solemn mountains bind the villagers and their fates tightly together. The giant rock situated at the gate of the village seems to impose an ancestral mythos on the present, and connect it to the past and the future.
A grandmother still labors for her family. She burns incense and prays, day by day, in fear of approaching death, and asks her son to return to keep her company. He agrees, but his work prospects remain limited to odd jobs in the woods, and he grows increasingly anxious. The grandson, tired of migrant work in the city, also returns to the mountains and starts to raise chickens, but begins to slide deeper into debt. The neighbor returns home unwillingly after injuring his eye in an industrial accident, suddenly losing all source of income.
It is said that a turtle endeavored to cultivate itself into the heavenly realm, but stumbled and was dismembered by the Thunder God, and turned into a rock. Exquisitely made and intimately observed, Turtle Rock documents a historical way of life seemingly moments before its ossification.
101 minutes - In Chinese dialect, with English Subtitles