“Youth (Spring)”: camera portraits of young workers and their loves in the shadow of the machines

“Youth (Spring)”: camera portraits of young workers and their loves in the shadow of the machines


Among the metaphors that fit well with cinema, one of the most effective would be the loom, a mechanical claw capable of creating fabrics, just as the filmmaker assembles skeins of reality, crossed by the thread of an idea. We suspect the analogy of having touched Wang Bing’s mind, in front of the hordes of sewing machines among which he walked his camera, and their furious purring filling the garment workshops of the textile town of Zhili, 150 kilometers away. from Shanghai.

The Chinese documentary maker based in Paris infiltrated these factories for five years, between 2014 and 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to it. After chronicling the decline of a vast industrial complex ( A l’Ouest des rails , 2003), recalling the concentration camp excesses of the Cultural Revolution ( Le Fossé , 2010; Les Ames Mortes , 2018), filming the extraction of coal ( L’Argent du Coal , 2009) or the psychiatric hospital ( A la Folie , 2013), the tireless director continues here his dissident picture of contemporary China, each time opposing a reverse shot to the “socialist market economy”.

If Wang Bing had already filmed the textile workshops of Huzhou in Argent amer (2016), Jeunesse (Le Printemps) immediately stands out as his most radiant film, carried by the vital energy of the very young people who inhabit it . They are in their twenties, sometimes even a little less, flock in droves from neighboring provinces and constitute the corvéable workforce of the teeming factories of Zhili, which only operate part of the year (seven months out of twelve), when the climate allows it. With time running out, and wages paid by the piece, the mechanics are working at full speed, assembling inexpensive children’s clothing – hooded anoraks, fluorescent shorts and chiffon skirts – intended for the domestic market, at extensive schedules that run from early morning to late evening.

A breath of lightness

Wang Bing tours the brands, small family businesses that all operate on the same model. Gradually, a glimpse emerges of this workshop town where factories follow one another along the length of the street, where there seems to be nothing apart from tailoring. Each workshop is equipped upstairs with its own spartan dormitories (made of bunk camp beds), giving the workforce the possibility of going directly from their workstation to their room, and vice versa – unless they go out to go get something to eat or spend a few nights at the internet café.

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