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Retour a film by Pang-Chuan Huang. 2017, France, 20 min. An immersive trip by train and photograph across continents and into the past.

A young Taiwanese filmmaker living in France travels home, echoing his grandfather’s journey abroad many decades before, and constantly snapping photographs he later assembles into a dense documentary collage: Retour. The film’s elegant and evocative structure cuts back and forth between Huang’s present and his grandfather’s past journey as a Chinese war refugee (as glimpsed in archival photos and fragments of diaries) as if they were the two parallel lines of a train track. Reminiscent of both Chris Marker’s classic La Jetée (1962) and the historical films of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the film screened at Locarno International Film Festival, IndieLisboa and won the Grand Prix for the Lab section at Clermont-Ferrand. 

 

Huang shot the film over the course of a single trip, bringing with him audio-recording equipment and four still cameras, including three of the unusual Canon EE Demi 17, a split-frame model that captures two images per regular 35mm frame. The film’s uncanny sensation of time travel is the result of Huang’s rigorous and musical arrangement of these grainy B&W images.

 

 

“Everyone can do an experiment comparing two versions of a sequence, in the same train station with the same position of camera: first a video with synchronised sound, and then a still image captured from that video, using the same audio source. It turns out that the still image gives more space for the imagination, and brings us back to the place more easily.” PANG-CHUAN HUANG

 

Huang’s graphic design studies in Taiwan are evident in the handwritten credits, timestamps, intertitles and arrows that appear throughout, subtly evoking the feeling of a letter or postcard sent from a distant country. Taiwanese pop star and frequent Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhangke collaborator Lim Giong (Millennium Mambo, A Touch of Sin) provides the haunting, minimalist score.

 

Retour was produced while Huang was studying at Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains, an art and film school whose graduates are more and more often among the most exciting new artists in France. A follow up and epilogue to Retour, entitled Last Year When the Train Passed By (2018), was awarded Clermont-Ferrand’s Lab Grand Prix by Claire Denis’ jury in 2019 – the second year running Huang has won the prize. His Love Story Before Dawn, a documentary short shot in Tokyo and co-directed with Chunni Lin, is in post-production, and he is currently developing a project on the French-Polish psychologist Françoise Minkowska for both traditional documentary and VR formats.

Credits for
Retour
cinematography
Pang-Chuan Huang
produced by
Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains
music
Lim Giong