Monday, March 02, 2009

Still Life

Still Life (Zhang Ke Jia, 2008) [8]

I wasn't overly impressed with Zhang's last feature, The World, but did find great moments within it. Here, with Still Life, he has created a poignant character piece as well as a greater story about the changing landscape of China. A man and a woman have both come to the the city of Fengjie, mostly submerged by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, to find lost spouses. Zhang creates this dichotomy of telling personal stories against a visually impressive and imposing landscape as the Dam project and the demolition of the surrounding villages. These characters move through a constantly changing landscape, of boats and people coming and going, buildings being demolished, of people coming and going. There are some gorgeous images captured in the film that wouldn't be out of place in someone like Terrence Malick's work. Perhaps that's why I like it so much; instead of a film with a driven narrative, Zhang offers up moments of observation and insight into these characters, their attempt to find others and themselves in a vast, constantly changing visual landscape. The Three Gorges Dam is a massive project that has uprooted millions in the name of the greater good of the Chinese people, but mostly for the good of capitalism. Part of these character's existence is to rectify that their memories or nostalgia of the past are going the way of Fengjie, submerged in the name of progress. It's this meditative nature of the landscape, of the character's actions in this vastly shifting world, and the film's ability to subtly say all it needs about its setting.

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