One of the qualities of a successful film is the courage and refinement with which the director tackles a delicate issue. When this issue involves concepts about morality, about the small and big compromises of the individual unable to assume their own justice, the result is all the more intriguing. From this point of view, the short film ‘A Sunburnt Summer‘ launches a sore challenge for viewers who witness the useless struggle of a victim with the moral corruption of a selfish and cowardly world. Even if the primary stake of this project doesn’t openly attack a dilemma that goes beyond the intimate space, to condemn a general problem, director Zicheng Li actually creates a short film with a strong social message that has all the features to be developed into a much more ambitious project and at least as compelling. The theme of sexual abuse that defines the starting point of this painful and implosive foray into a mother’s soul can also be seen as a pretext the director uses to suggest a broader picture of the unhealthy relationships conditioning our existence. Thus, the short film is conceived as a seemingly isolated fragment, presenting the drama of a family crushed by the ignorance of the privileged in the social hierarchy, but this narrative particle reflects, in fact, a much more complex conflict defined by our society’s immorality or comfortable passivity.


A mother learns that her son has been sexually abused by her boss’ son. What to do? How can you fight your superiors? How can you accuse the son of the woman who helped you build a new life? What are the limits of a compromise?


Also, who is the real victim: the abused young man or his mother who is unable to do justice on behalf of the person she loves the most? Victim status is, in fact, a scourge, a stigma that contaminates, not an isolated misfortune that changes the destiny of a single person. Starting from this aspect, Zicheng Li is an intelligent director who avoids the clichés of a (divine or earthly) justice, distancing himself from the drama of his characters in order to catch in a single look the depth of their pain. Thus, his short film often has the aspect of an almost clinical, mute perspective, watching the characters face not only the ignorance of others, but also their own silences, their own unverbalized helplessness. The quiet, implosive image, dominated in some places by neurotic movements of the camera, crystallizes around a seemingly irremediable conflict, while (re)opening a social wound we all know, but haven’t learned to heal yet. ‘A Sunburnt Summer’ is not the drama of a victim, it is the drama of a guilty silence that society hasn’t overcome yet.


For the suggestiveness with which the director depicts the implosive drama of a family facing social injustice and for its temperate but extremely “burning” narrative and cinematic construct, ‘A Sunburnt Summer’ was awarded with the 2nd Film of the Month distinction in the June 2020 edition of TMFF.