Squalid premises, overbearing doctors and, occasionally, political internees: from January to April 2013, Wang Bing filmed daily life in a psychiatric hospital in Yunnan province. In a space where the only breath of air is from an out-of-bounds courtyard surrounded by bars, a bed serves as a raft – “people like us can only afford sleep”, comments one of the residents. The filmmaker’s constantly close proximity to the patients, whom he addresses by name, helps him to decipher their ways of living (or surviving) and re-introduces a personal note into the things that the institution is stubbornly trying to empty of meaning. Prayers from a few Muslims, keeping warm together in bed, bodily and sartorial rituals that recall the utter deprivation in The Man with No Name and The Ditch. This documentary finally pierces even the most enclosed of spaces to create an opening onto an off-screen world: one inmate is still capable of writing “Moral thought” on his leg, another hums a love song while chasing a fly. Breaking the arbitrary power of a place that programmes madness as much as it diagnoses it, these signs of life bring an unexpected figure out of the chaos: the couple. Hence the title, which resonates like a painful marriage vow.