Beijing, the Seventies. Now that the Cultural Revolution has driven most adults to the provinces, 14-year old Monkey and his pals have free reign over the city. They hang around, get up to no good and discover that unsolvable mystery more commonly referred to as ‘girls’.
In the Heat of the Sun is a beautifully shot semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story where the ostensible nostalgia is undercut by an ironic narrator, who keeps blurring the line between what’s real and what may be imagined (“Wait, maybe it didn’t happen that way,…”). It’s a movie not just about memories, but also about the act of remembering and on how difficult that is, in a city which constantly re-builds itself from the ground up, in a country which constantly rewrites its own history. Continue reading
A doctor travels to his hometown to rescue his nephew, in the process confronting his traumatic past, in Chinese director Bi Gan’s aesthetically remarkable debut. Continue reading
Robert Koehler wrote:
With virtually a single-camera set-up and absolute attention paid to a woman who survived the horrors of Mao’s China, Wang Bing continues his run as one of the world’s supreme doc filmmakers with “Fengming: A Chinese Memoir.” While his extraordinary epic, “West of the Tracks,” traced the destruction of a city’s industrial zone and the forced relocation of thousands of residents, new pic is scaled in opposite fashion–intimate, minimalist, nearly private, as former journalist and teacher He Fengming describes in vividly painful detail how her life in the revolution turned into a 30-year nightmare. Prospects point to specialized treatment at major fests, but vid is where pic will really stand the test of time. Continue reading
Taking place in a ruined family compound after the war, the film tells the story of the once prosperous Dai family. The husband and patriarch, Dai Liyan is an invalid, and spends his days in the courtyard nostalgic for the past. His marriage to Zhou Yuwen has long been rendered loveless, though both still feel concern for the other. Liyan’s young teenage sister Dai Xiu, meanwhile, is too young to remember the past, and stays cheerful and playful in the ruins of her home. Into this dreary but unchanging existence comes Liyan’s childhood friend Zhang Zhichen, a doctor from Shanghai and a former flame of Zhou Yuwen before she ever met her husband. The rest of the film details Zhou Yuwen’s conflicting emotions between her love for Zhang, and her loyalty to her husband and his family. Continue reading
Platform opens to an appropriately temporally indeterminate sight of a bustling, crowded backstage of a provincial theater as a group of itinerant performers await the commencement of their traveling cultural education program that equally extols the country’s technological and social progress made possible by the Communist Revolution and celebrates its principal architect, Chairman Mao Zedong. However, a cut to a shot of the company tour bus as the manager provides constructive criticism on the performance of the peasant troupe (apparently caused by inaccurate mimicking of train sounds by some members who have never seen a train in real life) begins to reveal the disparity between their state-commissioned, official message of national modernization and the reality of life in the rural provinces. Continue reading
In all its simplicity, a completely unique film, shot more than 10 years ago and only now edited. A poet sets off on a ‘business trip’ through inhospitable Xinjiang. The physically exhausting trip provides an existential brothel visit, bumping on bad roads and a glimpse of a disappearing world, but also 16 melancholy poems.
In 2002, Ju Anqi made a film about a tour by the poet Shu through Xinjiang, the most western-lying, autonomous Uyghur province of China. All that we know about Shu is that he plays a poet who sends himself on a business trip – an absurd, satirical starting point that sets the tone for the film.
For a variety of reasons, it was not until 2013 that Ju started editing the rough, lyrical material that he had shot in what is now a very restless Xinjiang: it’s like an excellent wine that has had time to mature. Structured around 16 poems which he wrote on the road, Shu’s physically exhausting journey takes him along endless rocky roads, passing shabby inns and through impressive landscapes from one prostitute to the next.
In its documentary authenticity, Poet on a Business Trip is also an historic document that exudes an atmosphere of loss, providing an unsentimental yet melancholy glimpse of a country in transition and a mirror for the existential irreversibility of time. Continue reading
TimeOut London wrote:
A lyrical, elegiac tale about the generation of students banished to remote agricultural regions of China during the Cultural Revolution. 17-year-old Li Chun, a shy, even repressed Han girl from Beijing, is sent to work in a small village in the Dai countryside, down near Laos. At first disdainful of the natives’ rural superstitions and poverty, only slowly does she overcome her outsider status and learn the value of the Dais’ appreciation of beauty, nature and human warmth. An unsentimental celebration of tradition, exotic landscape and cultural independence, Zhang’s film is both a loving portrait of Dai life and a sensitive, partly autobiographical study of one girl’s hesitant awakening to sensuality. Infused with a discreet, gentle eroticism and a final, touching sense of loss, it charms through its narrative simplicity and visual elegance. Continue reading