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Chinese Berlinale Competition title “Return to Dust” has been sold to several European distributors with more about to close deals. M-Appeal is handling world sales.

The film, written and directed by Li Ruijun, has gone to Alambique (Portugal), Switzerland (trigon-film) and Greece (Ama Films, Stergiakis Brothers). ARP previously took rights in France and September Film picked up the film in Benelux. Other European distributors are in negotiations, with deals about to be signed.

The film centers on humble, unassuming Ma and timid Cao, who have been cast off by their families and forced into an arranged marriage. They have to combine their strength and build a home to survive.

“In the face of much adversity, an unexpected bond begins to blossom, as both Ma and Cao, uniting with Earth’s cycles, create a haven for themselves in which they can thrive,” according to a statement.

Li Ruijun has directed five feature films, which tend to focus on the relationship between people and the land where they live, as well as the rural attitude toward family, life and death in a rapidly changing China. His films are predominantly set in his hometown of Gaotai, with his close friends and relatives acting in them.

His previous films are “Walking Past the Future” (2017), which played in Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, “River Road” (2015), which screened at Tokyo Intl. Film Festival and Berlinale Generation, “Fly With the Crane” (2012), which played at Venice, “The Old Donkey” (2010) and “The Summer Solstice” (2007).

The film was produced by Qin Hong, alongside Zhang Min and Li Yan.

September Film CEO Pim Hermeling said he was “very happy to have boarded this emotional film. This heartwarming love story will resonate with the audience.”

George Stergiakis of Ama Films said “Return to Dust” is “one of the unexpected pleasures of Berlinale. A real masterpiece.”

Meret Ruggle, managing director of trigon-film, added: “’Return to Dust’ was one of our favorite titles in this year’s Berlinale. Li Ruijun manages to tell an authentic story from a Chinese province where tradition meets modernity and pays great attention to detail in his script. We are very happy to be working with this powerful and deeply touching love story.”

M-Appeal’s Maren Kroymann said: “I am incredibly happy about the enthusiastic reactions of the distributors in Europe and around the world! This beautiful film resonates with the audience and critics. The world seems to be longing for such a powerful cinematic experience.”