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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sānxiá Hǎorén (Still Life)


This Zhang Ke Jia film is compelling, engaging and fascinating to watch, not because it is artful or even playful, but because shows a China that you seldom see in the screen. Here you’re able to see a working class contemporary China in an historic situation, the building of Three Gorges Dam and the relocation of millions of inhabitants as riverside cities will be flooded.

That is the historic context, but the film tells two stories of people looking for other people. One is set in the village of Fengjie where Han Sanming, a middle-aged coal miner from Shanxi province is looking for her wife and daughter that he hasn’t seen since her wife left him 16 years ago. The other story is about Shen Hong, a nurse that arrives from Shanxi to find her husband that left the family two years ago. Both stories start when the characters arrive and finish when they are leaving and basically not much happens in both stories.

The reason to not too much narrative is that the background in both stories present you the implications of the dam building in different circumstances as Hong’s husband is involved in the dam building and alternates in upper levels, while Sanming finds a job as a demolition worker that demolishes the villages near the river. This is a film and story full of contrasts, irony and nostalgia for all that the dam has and will destroy that goes beyond flooding the river sideline villages into the lives of the dwellers that have to move on.

There are moments of surrealism that sort of bring you back from all you have been seeing, one is an UFO, another is a building that is launched as a rocket, the bald rocker singing and a man walking across two high buildings in a tightrope. This is the playful side of the movie, as everything else is like quiet raw realism.

Also in the movie are what could be taken like chapters and are related to some insignificant (or not?) situation that will follow; the words I recall are cigarette, liquor, tea and toffee. To me this “chapters” are like an announcement to turning points in the story, as something will happen to the characters and to what surrounds them.

I know I’m writing too much but the movie is fascinating as with very little dialogue, great cinematography, breathless poignant landscapes, endless metaphors and an atmosphere of nostalgia keeps you seriously engaged.

The film premiered at the 2006 Venice Film Festival where won the Golden Lion. Has other awards and nominations in fests and awards. It is truly funny to read that critic’s reviews before the award was announced were mild, but after the award was given the press highly praised the movie. Typical. But honestly the movie is extraordinary and the award is more that deserved.

Absolutely not for all audiences as the pace is slow and gets even more slower in crucial moments when characters are interacting. This is a great masterpiece that serious cinema lovers should see, as well as the companion piece, a documentary called Dong that I am looking forward to be able to see it.

Last, yes I do believe that the movie has political undertones and the most amazing thing is that Chinese authorities did not censor the film and was shown uncensored in both Mainland China and abroad. This is incredible, but what makes it even more amazing is that we were able to see it as the director visualized.

Again, A Must Be Seen for serious cinema lovers.

Big Enjoy!!!

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