Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jia Zhang-Ke's new film "Still Life" / Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Climates" at NWFF : Mar 16 - 22

Link to the Official "Still Life" Site

Link to Official "Climates" Site

Two examples of new cinema that differ much from each other in stylistic approach and how each translate their fundamental concerns to visual narrative, but deal in similar existential questions, interpersonal relationships and cultural/political environment motivating/effecting change in individual lives.

Ceylan's film belonging more to the shool of Antonioni and Bergman in its exploration of the inner life of the characters, their thoroughly disintegrated romantic relationship (yes, its uberuplifting) and the changing landscape that surrounds them through shifting location and seasons. This was a fave of mine from last year (made the nerdish 'films of the year' list) and its a treat (and a bit of a reaffirmation) to see it on the current schedule for the Northwest Film Forum this month.

Director Jia Zhang-Ke has had a number of critically lauded films in the past half-decade, and is often spoken of as the highest-profile of the 6th generation of Chinese filmmakers. His previous feature "The World" made many critical polls in 2005 (including my own) and his newest "Still Life" has already managed to eclipse it by winning the highest award offered, the Golden Lion, at this years Venice Film Fest on its European premier. This is an example of cinema that both defies comparison and a easy history of association that proceeds it. Set in the 'Three Gorges' dam project in central China the film frames lives, landscape and rural history slowly sinking into the massive waters of the Yangzhe reservoir project, an event economically and politically motivated/executed with (seemingly) little or no regard for the losses involved. History, lives, families, friendships, tradition are all swallowed up by the rising waters. That its a film dealing in fundamental intimate concerns - two romantic relationships (one having parted for over a decade and the other convening to address the 'whys' of it all after a year of silence) set literally 'within' the massive, monolithic scale of the of the river valleys and demolition projects tearing down cities of brick and cement (by hand!) in advance of the rising waters - lends the whole experience the most otherworldly effect I've seen in cinema where no notions of the 'metaphysical' or 'dreamlike' are directly addressed by the film itself. Zhang-ke benefits from what is probably one of the most profound settings ever seen in cinema (the grandeur of the destruction/change pictured is beyond comparison) but its his depiction of the intimacy (and physicality) of his characters within this landscape, paced to the strength of his quiet storytelling that make the film more than just a document of monumental geographical and societal change. Events larger than life, viewed from the perspective of those who's daily lives are being displaced by the course of large-scale economic and historic 'progress' (aka: modernization) - its in this intersection of perspectives that the film generates its particular beauty and incomparable(?) character. (I can think of no other film/director in my experience to reference in speaking of "Still Life" - possibly a strange mix of the scale of Herzog's "Aguirre" and Tsai-Ming Liang's bodily intimacy? Set in modern communist China? ... I dunno. ) The result is easily the best piece of 'new' cinema I've seen in a good year or more. Looking forward to an eventual theatrical run stateside. Believe I've read that the NY Lincoln Film Center will feature the US premiere in the coming month(s):

Link to the Lincoln Film Center Site