Saturday, May 05, 2007
A rare blind spot in contemporary cinema I possess is the work of Jia Zhang-Ke. I have, despite ample opportunities, failed to see any of the previous films of this young, critically-acclaimed Chinese director (only 36). Now, with the arrival of Still Life, his Golden Lion winner from Venice last year, I finally got my act together and wandered down to Bastille to watch it.
The film concerns Fengjie, a city on the Yangtse that is about to be submerged to facilitate the building of the Three Gorges Dam. There are two distinct plotlines, one in which a migrant worker returns after sixteen years away to find his former wife and daughter, and a second with a nurse looking for her husband, of whom she has heard nothing in two years. It is a difficult film, precisely because there is little in the way of plot momentum and the storylines are thin, but it succeeds in conjuring a mood of longing, loss and impending doom. There is an ethereal quality about the film's visual and aural textures too, the dreamy bleached-out cinematography being some of the most amazing I have ever seen on the big screen, and while there may not be much dialogue, the film's mastery of numerous registers of sound is something that would have made Robert Altman red with envy. It is a film that I will need to see again in order to absorb more - there is an unbreakable tension between the simplicity of the narrative and the richness of the film's visual and aural fabric - but the scenes in which the town is being demolished house by house and walls being marked with future water levels leave a haunting impression.