Adapted from Ban Yu’s novel, Carefree Days is a poignant, ethereal exploration of resilience in the face of despair, a film that gracefully dances between the tragic and the comic. Director Liang Ming, an actor you might recognize from Lou Ye’s recent Cannes premiere An Unfinished Film, takes us on a journey through the distinctive streets of Shenyang that’s as darkly humorous as it is emotionally devastating. Our guide is Xu Lingling (played with raw vulnerability by Lyu Xingchen, also in Liang’s award-winning debut Wisdom Tooth), a 25-year-old uremia sufferer who refuses to let her illness dampen her longing for love and family. Faced with the brutal impermanence of life, Xu embarks on a solace-seeking road trip with her close friend Tan Na (Li Xueqin) and old classmate Zhao Dongyang (Zhao Bingrui). Along the way, they confront the cosmic joke of existence with a distinctly northeastern Chinese sense of humor that’s as grim as it is comical, like a Coen brothers movie with Chinese characteristics. Liang Ming’s deft direction and the cast’s soulful performances create a world that’s both achingly real and hauntingly surreal, a testament to the indomitable human spirit that finds a way to endure even in the most desolate of times, armed with nothing more than a mordant joke and a rueful smile.