2001-2010ChinaDocumentaryZhangke Jia

Zhangke Jia – Gong gong chang suo aka in public (2001)

sensesofcinema article :
(…)the 1990s have witnessed the unprecedented development and modernization of the South Korean film industry, encouraged by multi-faceted efforts from the government. The creation of the Chonju/Jeonju Film Festival in 2000 matched the desire of involving South Korea in a cutting edge international film culture. In addition to homages to Asian (Hou Hsiao-hsien) or European (Chantal Akerman) auteurs, the Festival hosted a number of events devoted to digital filmmaking(…)
The same year, Jeonju launched another initiative, producing an omnibus film composed of three digital shorts entrusted to different filmmakers: Zhang Yuan from China, and two Korean directors, Park Kwang-Su and the more experimental Kim Yun-Tae. The second omnibus commissioned by the Festival involves pieces by Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-liang and John Akomfrah as the only non-Asian director.(..)

As enthusiastic “beginners”, both Jia and Tsai seized the digital camera as a tool that could provide them with a more intimate, closer, way of “grasping” reality. Yet, once again, they end up with a world of missed encounters. The real, said Lacan, is not only what eludes us, but what we tend to resist, and both filmmakers articulate this dilemma with elegance and poignancy. The “intimacy” produced by the digital recording is more with the “subject” than with the “object”, and what strikes at first in both Jia’s and Tsai’s contributions is how congruent they are with the rest of their work – they are, somehow, a form of inverted self-portrait, the “captured” images functioning like a mirror image of their emotions and concerns.

Jia’s In Public starts as a distant echo to his groundbreaking Xiao Wu (1997): in a train station. Yet, instead of following the evolutions of his central character in a variety of public and private spaces in which he seems to “fit” less and less, Jia assembled 30 shots, recorded over a period of 45 days, of anonymous passers-by, travelers, railroad and bus workers, in and around the small mining town of Datung, in Inner Mongolia. Like Fengyeng, Jia’s hometown, in which he also locates the plot of Xiao Wu and Platform (2000), Datung is on the verge of major changes – no longer profitable, the mine might be closed; meanwhile, people want to partake in the new pleasures offered by capitalism, such as dance halls, karaoke, blue jeans. Unflinchingly, Jia’s gaze and Yu’s camera capture the gap between “life’s slowness and hope’s violence” (Apollinaire), between the ennui, backwardness, and dreary atmosphere of a small town, and the impatience, hidden desires and private concerns of its inhabitants, that create as many enigmatic narrative vignettes. A man waits in a train station – inquires which train has arrived; a first railroad worker gives him a wrong answer, a second the correct one; the man’s relatives, a young couple, finally arrive, carrying a heavy bag. Later, at a bus stop, a skinny woman, dressed in black, whose drawn, white features betray a strange kind of tense beauty, runs after a bus that won’t stop for her; in the cold, on her fine heels, she performs a sort of dance to express her frustration, circling around the empty bus stop, shortly joined by a young man with whom she starts a conversation we can hardly hear. Is he trying to pick her up? We won’t know; after a while, another bus comes; they hop on. We are now inside a bus. Another one, looking at the passengers at close range; a little boy (one of the rare close-ups of the piece) looks back at us. In a train station, a disused bus has been turned into a restaurant, one of the rooms is a pool hall, another a dancing hall; people come and go, to buy tickets or to play pool, while a couple dance, trying on new steps. In the midst of this agitation, an immobile figure stands out – a bald man, wearing dark sunglasses, sporting a vest and a tie, smiling and smoking in silence, surrounded by a small group of people. He seems in command; he’s in business. The camera keeps going back to him, first with a close-up of his face – is his smile friendly, vain or sinister? – to a shot of the wheel-chair on which he is sitting, detailing the miniature portrait of Mao hanging from one of the arms, to a shot of the empty space where his left leg should be… (Is he a wounded socialist hero? a gangster?) Nearby, And, next oblivious, the couple is still dancing. In an adjacent (?)dance hall, people move to a socialist song (“the laborious and courageous Chinese people, marching with vigor into a new age.”) …

350MB | 30min | 704*368 | avi


Language(s):some chinese background discussions

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