girls always happyGirls Always Happy was a breath of fresh air during a Berlinale which has featured a remarkable number of downbeat stories. It’s an accomplished film. It presents an original point of view about how to lead a life, in a changing society which still remains restrictive about a young woman’s place in the world. The film was nominated for Best First Feature Award for its director (and lead actress), Yang Mingming – a strong contender which deserved to win.

Seventeen-year-old Ying Ling works in a spa for the deceased. More precisely, she works as a mortician in one of China’s largest undertaking firms. One of the services offered is a spa ritual, performed in front of the deceased’s grieving relatives. In a quiet ceremony, the body is washed, dressed, given a haircut and a shave if needed, make-up is applied; strikingly, it is also given treatments as if it were still part of the living: a massage, a facial. Kind, caring words are whispered to the deceased.