Youth, the review: Wang Bing and the nightmare of Chinese workers

The review of Youth, the documentary by Wang Bing presented in competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Youth, the review: Wang Bing and the nightmare of Chinese workers

“Hell is Repetition”. Several times this concept has appeared in our minds while watching Youththe documentary by Wang Bing presented in competition at the 2023 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. An inevitable thought, which accompanies the constant and obsessive sound of the workers’ sewing machines that the director tells us about. What we are talking about in this review is a complex work, which required a lot of work for its realization and demands just as much attention in order to be able to enjoy and appreciate it. It is ambitious and important work, but not for everyone.

Five years of incessant work

Five years of work for the making of Youth by Wang Bing, five years from 2014 to 2019 in which the director followed some textile workers of Zhili City, a city three hours from Beijing, to highlight, and obviously criticize , the harsh conditions in which they find themselves working day after day. The director does not focus on a single group of workers, but moves from one structure to another, bringing out differences not only in the conditions in which they operate, but also in the reactions to them.

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Youth: a photo from the film

If a first group, younger, manages to maintain a certain lightness in the approach to work despite the lack of heating, sleeping in three in each room above the factory and having to wash with buckets of water, the second more mature already evidences more obvious signs of suffering. In any case, these are working conditions beyond the threshold of civilization, but it is natural to ask how faithful it is to the strictest current events, considering that the reference period is prior to the revolution that Covid could have brought about in this field too.

Learn more about the topic of work

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Youth: a moment of the film

In any case, it is important to delve deeper into the topic, to show the prohibitive conditions in which workers carry out their duties on a daily basis, how they live and what their attempt to change factories in which to work entails. It is important to show it and make the viewer reflect, hypnotized by the very long sequences accompanied by the obsessive noise of the sewing machines or to show us the different individuals engaged in such daily activities that they hurt, if we compare them to the reality in which we are used to living and working.

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Is it important to talk to everyone?

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Youth: a sequence from the film

It’s important to show it, but would it be just as valuable to be able to communicate it to everyone? However appreciable from a thematic and artistic point of view, for a work that was created according to the wishes and rules of its author, we cannot overlook a significant negative side: the duration and time dilation, which makes Youth a documentary not for everyone and therefore unable to disseminate his investigation and his reflection on world of work in China to a wider audience than the one frequenting cinephile circles such as the Cannes Film Festival can be.


The one we told you about in the review of Youth is not a simple-to-use documentary, due to the dilated times and the repetitiveness of the situations. It is a narrative choice that is functional to the theme to be told, but requires attention and dedication on the part of the viewer that not everyone might be willing to have. However, those who are willing to devote themselves to Wang Bing’s work will be rewarded with an important insight into a delicate topic such as that of labor exploitation.

Because we like it

  • The topic dealt with, important and current, in China as throughout the world.
  • The form chosen by Wang Bing, who exploits obsessive repetitiveness to communicate the situation of the protagonists he narrates.

What’s wrong

  • It is not a cinema that is easy to enjoy and requires dedication on the part of the viewer.

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