Friday, June 06, 2008

Rèn xiāo yáo (Unknown Pleasures)

Yes another Jia Zhangke movie that is as compelling as the one I saw the other day and as I was hoping it tells a story about contemporary China and does it in his quiet incisive way.

But before talking about the movie I want to record some information about this filmmaker that is becoming more and more interesting. The following is an excerpt from an article in Senses of Cinema.

"Jia Zhangke is a leading figure of what is known as the “Sixth Generation” of film directors in the People's Republic of China, following the “Fifth Generation,” whose members include Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. The Fifth Generation directors occupy themselves mostly with spectacle-driven mythic histories laden with pointed social criticisms that jeopardize their standing with the government censors. In contrast, the Sixth Generation filmmakers largely produce their gritty, contemporary realist films well outside of the state system, relying instead on personal or private funding, often through sources outside China."

So now we all know that definitively as I suspected with the first film I saw, Jia’s work is a contemporary raw realism and this movie has exactly that style that borders closely to a documentary look alike. Is like if he’s recording the changes that had to happen and still have to happen with the “modernization” of China. In a way recalls the work of Ozu and Naruse that today allows us to see a different Japan, but when the movies were released represented their own simple reality.

The movie tells a slice of life of two teenagers and is set in a remote city near the Mongolian border called Datong. Both Bin Bin and Xiao Ji just completed the school and are unemployed, have nothing much to do and kill time consuming mostly American pop culture from TV, movies, music and Coca-Cola (!!!), they have no future and they look and behave like sleep walkers transiting a senseless life. In the background everything is happening Beijing named for the next Olympic games, the new highway that will communicate Datong to Beijing, an US spy plane downed, etc; but they do not care and even do not become consciously aware that the explosion they heard killed people. In this explosion scene I just love what Bin Bin says that I paraphrase: Are the Americans bombing China? (Gee, did I laugh!).

As you can guess the movie is not for all audiences as actually nothing happens in this slow paced essay about uncertainty with the abandon of the ones forgotten that only are able to catch the invasive consumerism of the American ways. But of course a lot is being said in the quiet, sarcastic and outstandingly incisive silence, scene after scene. Incredible! Images and impeccable actors performances say all that words will not.

By now you know that I found another director that is becoming a must be seen director for his visual narrative and the most interesting recording of contemporary life in China. It is truly remarkable how without many words, without drama, and with excellent cinematography and performances a filmmaker can tell so much.

Anyway the movie was in competition for the Palm D’Or at the 2002 Cannes and has another award at the 2003 Singapore International Film Festival. But beyond the artistic value of this film and probably of all Jia’s body of work, this film is a must be seen for those interesting in knowing a filmmaker vision of contemporary China.

Still, because Jin Zhanke is an excellent filmmaker I strongly recommend this movie to all serious cinema lovers.

Big Enjoy!!!

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