Film Comment Spotlights Chinese Indie Films from Vancouver Film Fest

Rumination (dir. Xu Ruotao)

Over at Film Comment, critic Robert Koehler zeroes in on the Dragons and Tigers showcase of Asian Cinema at the Vancouver International Film Festival, programmed by Tony Rayns and Shelly Kraicer. He devotes special attention to the films from China, proclaiming, “The selection of Chinese films reconfirmed the fact that, right now, no country in the world is making more interesting and original work.”

Koehler singles in on three films in particular, comments on each excerpted below:

“Xu Ruotao’s Rumination, an astonishing and radical re-envisioning of the Cultural Revolution. Xu comes to the cinema from the visual arts and confidently rejects many conceits of not just historical film genre, but also of the poetic, auteur-driven tendencies that dominate the current festival scene. He often aims to make the viewer reconsider what they think they know about the cinematic re-staging of history. His treatment of Red Guard units running amok in the countryside is alternately a dream choreographed as a riot, and a documentary of the ways revolutionary thought is turned into religion. For instance: during scenes of the soldiers’ chanting and recitation of Maoist cant – interrupted by beatings and the interrogations of innocents – a weirdly feverish ecstasy fills the screen.


But if this remarkable first film looks at the past, another Xu – Xu Xin – looks to more recent Chinese tragedies. The unbearably sad and moving Karamay examines various aspects of the 1994 incident in which 323 people were killed in a fire in Friendship Hall in the eponymous city while local Communist Party leaders were allowed to escape. Primarily comprised out of a series of soul-bearing testimonials of the parents who lost their children, the emotions evolve from sheer grief (still intense and evident 15 years later) to political outrage. The parents begin to openly question the legitimacy of a system that values the lives of political hacks over those of children. Xu sets his static camera to record the testimonials in a manner reminiscent of Wang Bing’s approach in Fengming: A Chinese Memoir, but the immediacy of events, the primal parent-child connection, and Xu’s use of video footage of the disaster and its aftermath result in a true landmark in non-fiction cinema.

Just as harsh a critique, though couched in utterly different terms, is Li Hongqi’s hilarious Winter Vacation. Honed to a dry Beckettian sharpness, Li’s comedy depicts a Chinese township in Inner Mongolia during deep winter, when school kids on holiday have absolutely nothing to do. A South Park comparison is apt, since Li focuses on youngsters framed in near one-dimensional stasis with their parents typically nowhere to be seen. Winter Vacation‘s world of old and young folks killing time in a meaningless place is clearly a reductio ad absurdum of China itself – and the liberation of a new Chinese comic style.”

Read Koehler’s complete article at Film Comment.

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