Harbin, northern China. A city with high-rise buildings, snow, and an average temperature of -22°C in the winter. This is the background of “Day Tripper”, the first feature movie of Chinese director Chen Yanqi. Nothing happens in the film, except for daily life: a man leaves his apartment to go to work, high school students run in line, two street musicians play for no one because no one stops to listen. The movie is a sequence of mundane tasks which range from serious to ridiculous, spanning a single slow day in the city. While the characters wait for something to happen, the act of waiting is the only thing that happens, commenting on the absurdity of the society they live in.

The FIFF jury, who declared “Day Tripper” the winner of the Grand Prix FIFF 2024, described it as “a wonderful chronicle of contemporary China, a country bristling with modernity yet paralyzed by its past. With his irony-laced, deliciously cynical debut feature, young Chinese director Chen Yanqi has, in our opinion, the makings of a great film auteur.”

Chen Yanqi was present at two movie screenings during the festival and talked about his creative process and how it was received in China. Yanqi was born and raised in Harbin, the city that became the main inspiration and the background of the movie. After coming back from studying abroad, Yanqi was inspired to write about the life of the people who lived there. This is how “Day Tripper” was born. The movie was shot in Harbin, unmistakable in the long, slow shots that show the concrete buildings and the snowy streets. One of the main difficulties, as Yanqi reported at the festival, was filming there: the entire movie was filmed during the coldest months in winter.

But the cold was not the only hardship; the risk of the movie not passing Chinese censorship was high. Despite its many comical elements, the overall undertone of “Day Tripper”, with its critique of society, is very political. Being critical of the system is something Chen Yanqi did intentionally. Nevertheless, after a long wait, the movie passed censorship and was made public.

Yanqi noted a distinct difference in how the public reacted to his movie in China compared to European countries. In China, most people look for entertainment in movies, therefore finding “Day Tripper” rather boring, unlike in other countries. When the film was screened in Harbin, a spectator asked the director why he did not make a movie that displayed the good side of the city, in an attempt, perhaps, to attract more tourists. The economy needs tourism because, as Yanqi remarked, Harbin is losing its youth, which is leaving as many factories are closing. He answered the question only by saying: “Maybe the next one will be happy.”

For Chen Yanqi it is essential to tell stories about Chinese people, which is one of the reasons why he has gone back to his homeland. As he described it, like a plant that needs its soil to grow, he also needs his land to fully belong.


Text Valentina Tobler

Beitragsbild Festival du Film de Fribourg (FIFF)

Title: Day Tripper

Country: China

Director: Chen Yanqi

Year: 2023

Length: 90 minutes

FIFF Category: International Competition: Long Films