Source: The China Project (4/21/23)
‘Eat Bitter’ personalizes China’s relationship with the Central African Republic
Co-directors Sun Ningyi and Pascale Appora-Gnekindy offer a depoliticized, if at times dismissive, look into the lives of a Chinese construction manager and a Central African laborer.
By Amarsanaa Battulga
Eat Bitter, a co-production between China and the Central African Republic, is the latest documentary to shed light on China-Africa relations. The film had its world premiere last month at the prestigious Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, better known as CPH:DOX, just one day after news broke out that nine Chinese nationals were killed during an attack on a gold mine in the Central African Republic.
However, Eat Bitter largely avoids depicting such conflicts. Instead, Sūn Níngyì 孙宁忆 and Pascale Appora-Gnekindy choose to highlight personal stories and relationships between the Chinese and Central African residents in the capital city of Bangui in their first full-length film.
“I didn’t want to discuss China’s influence in Africa, or [make] a film that focuses solely on economy or politics,” Sun, who initiated the project, explained in an interview. The resulting observational documentary focuses almost exclusively on two men who represent different sides of the China-Africa relationship but also share the same basic pursuits in life: family, wealth, and happiness.
Eat Bitter — a literal translation of the Chinese phrase 吃苦 chīkǔ, or “endure hardships” — starts with a series of strikingly beautiful shots of the Ubangui River at dawn as two locals row a canoe. One of them stands up, prays aloud, and jumps into the water. Moments later, he emerges back on the surface while his partner pulls up from the bottom of the river a bucket that he’s filled with sand, and empties it on the canoe. Continue reading