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85 Ratings

Dead Souls

Si ling hun

Directed by Wang Bing
France, Switzerland, 2018


In Gansu Province, northwest China, lie the remains of countless prisoners abandoned in the Gobi Desert sixty years ago. Designated as ultra-rightists in the Communist Party’s Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957, they starved to death in the reeducation camps. The film invites us to meet these survivors.

Dead Souls Directed by Wang Bing
“Dead Souls” is a film of resistance that, in discussing the past, also confronts the present-day activities of the Chinese government. It’s as if “Shoah” had filmed Holocaust survivors exclusively in Germany—and as if the one-party Nazi regime that had sent them to concentration camps were still in power.
December 19, 2018
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Some will find this approach artless, but it has a certain hypnotic quality. These subjects speak for 30 or 40 minutes at a time, and our eyes may catch little details and patterns: the way an individual grabs his knee, or scratches his face.
December 13, 2018
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A monumental achievement. In over eight hours, shot over the course of more than ten years, Dead Souls, too, is an intimate portrait, or rather a collection of intimate portraits that go under the skin, albeit in a different way than Mrs Fang. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to compare the film to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. On the contrary, one could go as far as arguing that Dead Souls was the Shoah of the 21st century.
December 06, 2018
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What are people saying?

  • Duncan Gray's rating of the film Dead Souls

    Of our major documentarians, Wang is the most uninterested in using hooky stylistic techniques, opting instead for a dedication to bearing witness with purity. This one is heavy lifting, and I spent much of it fearing that Wang was using an extreme duration for volume rather than scope. But the interviews he saves for last make it hurt even more. And his approach to atrocity is not as a firebrand, but a humanist.

  • dionysus67's rating of the film Dead Souls

    Although comparisons to Lanzmann's 'Shoah' should be taken with caution -Bing's camera and interview method lacks the empahetic and apocalyptic aspect of suffering Lanzmann elicited from victims and criminals alike- this marathon documentary offers not only plenty of insight on crimes overshadowed by Nazism but functions also as redemption (via knowledge of crimes) for the countless people who perished. Staggering.

  • Jérémy Poirier's rating of the film Dead Souls

    RIDM / Mtl: Words cannot express the beauty and painful sorrow of Wang Bing's deeply mesmerizing cinematic monument about death and life. During the whole eight hour running time of this long gestating project, the filmmaker' sensibility towards his subjects and their testimonies of these inhuman days of Mao's China is really unique. This is way more than a film, it is a testament to these people; living or dead.

  • Lynch/Fellini's rating of the film Dead Souls

    Wang Bing has made an incredible opus here, displaying the different ways people deal with trauma by allowing victims of the anti-rightist movement discuss their experience in Mao's labor camps. Wang does not cut frequently, so as to eliminate some level of manipulation, and to give the sense of imprisonment that his subjects face every day. At 8 hours long, it's not an easy sit. But an incredible one nonetheless.

  • VincentVendetta's rating of the film Dead Souls

    It really is Wang Bing's version of Shoah, an 8-hour long documentary of interviews with survivors of death camps, and the remains of the present, with no archival footage, although the Chinese director's presence is much more subtle, and respectful.

  • Erlösung's rating of the film Dead Souls

    This is as far as we can go in trying to get a glimpse of History and understand the lives of those who lived it. Countless words are spent by dead souls in describing the suffering they have gone through in this world. Yet, something elusive still lingers between silences and speech: we will never know the reality of that pain; we can only imagine, and believe.

  • Yang's rating of the film Dead Souls

    the most vital thing here is the space Wang Bing gives these individuals to tell their story, finally. A document, a canvas for these voices to be heard. The most important thing Wang does is remove himself and any cinematic flourishes or techniques as much as possible, giving the floor and attention to the survivors at every opportunity.

  • m00nJaguar's rating of the film Dead Souls

    This 8 hour plus documentary was shown in 3 parts on MUBI in March 2020, the month of coronavirus, ironically enough. Described as “cinema of testimony”, one camp survivor after another describe their situation & suffering, a devastating accumulation of tragic details. Visits to the haunted landscapes of the abandoned camps that are now mostly erased by time, but the bones & dormitory caves bear mute witness

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