A stand-out this year in the Generation section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, this film is a tender and life-affirming portrait of a vibrant young woman approaching adulthood. Ying Ling, a 17-year-old trainee at a funeral parlor in Changsha (the capital of the central Chinese province of Hunan) is far from home and terrified of ghosts, yet she is training to become a mortician in one of China’s largest funeral homes.  The film begins by closely following Ling's training, as she practices corpse-washing procedures on a mannequin and then a colleague before going online to find ways to alleviate her fear of ghosts. After her first encounter with a real dead body, she reflects on whether she's cut out for the job, then heads into town for dinner. This issue of young, migratory workers in China is actually what Almost Heaven intends to broach. Unlike the previous generation of unschooled rural laborers flooding into urban centers for lowly jobs, Ling and her cohorts are high school graduates trying their luck in better-paid jobs in the cities. The film succeeds in conveying Ying's efforts to adapt to her new life, and then her struggle to contain the boredom brought about by all the routine work. Carol teases a bubbly and engaging personality out of a seemingly ordinary and mild-mannered adolescent. Almost Heaven juxtaposes life and death, and it seems as if we’ve almost forgotten that this is also how nature presents life to us.


Carol Salter interview: