Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zhantai (Platform)

Most of the time when you’re getting to know a director you usually start with a latest movie and then go to his previous work; then most of the time this experience allows you to realize how the director evolved as a filmmaker, as most of his later work is better than his earlier work. There are some exceptions like Tarkosky that all his work is unbelievably good. Anyway lately I was puzzled with Alexandr Sukorov earlier work, Mother and Son that I found was a cinematic masterpiece, greater than his later work.

Now I have the same thoughts about Jia Zhang-ke and this outstanding film that even when it has his peculiar storytelling and directing style, it is the most interesting film I have watched lately and from his later work.

It is truly amazing the way he was able to compress a decade of China history by telling the story of four young people. This is excellent storytelling with quotidian life moments (nothing really dramatic happens) shown, all done with images and situations that represent how China started to transform into a more open to the world society.

What truly called my attention is how clothes (or costumes if you wish) slowly changed from the typical uniform (that made all Chinese look so similar) to clothes that showed their individuality. Obviously the way they dressed was also accompanied by hairstyles, females using makeup and behavior. This is simply put, a truly outstanding experience if you’re interested in watching how the common became the individual, especially in a country where there are 56 (or so) different ethnic groups recognizable rapidly because the way they dress.

So in this movie you have a vision of a director about life from about the end of the 1970’s to the early 90’s that, as most of his movies is set in his home province, Shanxi, and the city of Fenyang and tells about a group of itinerant performers that initially perform under the cultural education program that basically exalts the country’s technological and social progress made possible by the Communist Revolution. Soon you’ll start to learn more about four performers, two men and two women, and slowly as the social reformation pickups the penetration into remote places, the troupe also change into a private enterprise indirectly reflecting the transition from a state-run economy towards privatization.

Another amazing and unusual storytelling technique is that actually this is a love story! The romance in this story is very realistic and slowly built throughout the years; and more unusual is that at least for the romance, it has a “happy” ending. Then the movie is also humorous in a direct (not oblique or sarcastic) way! Which is truly unusual, but highly effective way to stimulate viewers’ engagement in what on the surface looks like a fragmented and successive slice-of-life moments of the main four characters life.

As a movie I believe that this is a careful crafted movie that has all Zhang-ke style of later movies and some unexpected (for me at least) very art cinema techniques that I did not see in his later movies. Then sound has a particular and important role within the movie, and not only is used to enhance the oblique Chinese history storytelling, but also enhances the ambiance of the movie. Cinematography is spectacular with some breathtaking landscapes and eloquent recording of the transition that Fenyang, the city, had in the decade that totally emulates the clothes transition seen in the characters.

This masterpiece won the Netpac Award at the 2000 Venice Film Festival where also was an official competition film; it has many accolades, nominations and wins from critics, viewers, festivals and awards from all over the world.

I saw the movie a few days ago, but since I started writing this blog, this is the first time that immediately I had NO words for this movie. I needed time to digest everything I saw. I had a mixed feelings spontaneous reaction to this movie with any related to the quality of the movie and all related to what the story was all about and how it was told. I was wordless, as truly is a very intense experience that I strongly suggest -especially to some of my known serious cinema lovers- you have to live.

This definitively is a must be seen movie for all serious cinema lovers, but I imagine that most have already seen this amazing masterpiece from now more than before, truly outstanding master filmmaker. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

Big Enjoy!!!

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