A post Monday on the film’s official Weibo social media site announced that the film had been yanked, saying that it was for “technical reasons.” The festival confirmed the information, and explained that the film had not been completed.
The move means that Berlin’s competition section will drop from 17 to 16 films. However, Berlin expects to play another, older, film by Zhang in the same time slot on Friday, albeit out of competition. Sources close to the festival said that Zhang’s 2002 art-house actioner “Hero” will fill the slot.
Though Zhang had positioned “One Second” as his personal tribute to cinema, speculation immediately arose that the film was withdrawn for political reasons. “One Second” is set during China’s 1966-76 Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong, a period that the Communist Party has itself acknowledged was disastrous but that remains a sensitive, if not taboo, topic.
Zhang’s film is the second Chinese film to be pulled from Berlin this year. The first was “Better Days,” a story about a disaffected youth, which was to premiere in the Generation section. Sources told Variety that that movie was withdrawn for censorship reasons, though the public stance has been to say that “Better Days” was not completed in time.
The official social media site for “One Second” said enigmatically: ” ‘One Second’ is not allowed to be showed at the Berlin International Film Festival for technical reasons. Apologies.”
China has been undergoing considerable political and cultural tightening over the past year under President Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. And responsibility for regulating the entertainment industry last year was moved directly under the Communist Party’s Propaganda department.
“One Second” was produced through auteur-controlled production and streaming conglomerate Huanxi Media. Hong Kong’s Edko Films recently picked up international sales rights outside Greater China. Earlier this week, Edko said that the film had not been shown privately to buyers and that it had not yet completed licensing deals.
Neither Kong or Edko sales representatives in Berlin have responded to Variety‘s requests for comment.
Rumors of possible withdrawal have similarly dogged Lou Ye’s “The Shadow Play” which was scheduled to play in Berlin’s Panorama section on Monday. The film is a gritty, recent history drama about corrupt property developers. It features the grim discovery of a body, presumably murdered, in its opening scene, and in its first reel depicts a riot by village dwellers against forced eviction. Those are elements that typically attract the wrath of Chinese censors.
But the festival went ahead with a press screening of “Shadow Play,” preceded by display of the Dragon Seal that shows it has passed censorship. A press conference followed.