Life After Life (Zhi fan ye mao). 2016. China. Directed by Zhang Hanyi. In Mandarin; English subtitles. 80 min.
Zhang Hanyi’s exquisitely restrained ghost story combines the gentle supernaturalism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul with the clear-eyed social realism of Jia Zhangke (one of the film’s executive producers). A young boy, Leilei, becomes possessed by his late mother, Xiuying, whose spirit has wandered the Shanxi Province’s disintegrating cave homes for years. With the help of Leilei’s father (who receives his late wife’s return with matter-of-fact equanimity), they set out to move a tree from her family’s courtyard before she departs again. In ethereal, beautifully composed sequences of a barren rural-industrial village on the edge of collapse, itself a kind of purgatorial space, Zhang captures the spectral gap between life and oblivion.