Thomas Mao (dir. Zhu Wen)
Judging by the extensive coverage of Chinese films at the Vancouver International Film Festival, one can conclude that it is one of the key venues to see the best of Chinese cinema outside of China. We’ve already pointed to reports by VIFF Dragons and Tigers programmer Shelly Kraicer, Film Comment’s Robert Koehler and MUBI’s Daniel Kasman. In the latest issue of Senses of Cinema, Berenice Reynaud offers an in-depth take on half a dozen Chinese-language titles, among many other films reviewed from the festival. Some excerpts:
On Li Hongqi’s Winter Vacation: “Li alternates wordless, rigorously composed scenes with instances of sparse dialogue, a Beckett-like hollowing of everyday platitudes.”
On Zhu Wen’s Thomas Mao: “Another scintillating example of neo-Chinese wit.”
On Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew: “Old Shanghai is disappearing in the wake of unprecedented urban destruction (a lot of it caused by the World Expo itself); I Wish I Knew captures it as a dream, a memory, a flow of cinematic images that are as fluid and immaterial as the two rivers that run through it.”
On Hao Jie’s Single Man: “Visceral, off-colour, generous to a fault, Hao Jie’s Guanggun (Single Man) is one of the most exciting filmmaking debuts in years.”
On Zhao Dayong’s The High Life: “Zhao plays with our narrative expectations, blurring the lines between fiction and self-representation.”
On Xu Tong’s Fortune Teller: “Following Li and Little Pearl on the back alleys and dusty roads of rural China, Xu – whose first film, Mai shou (Wheat Harvest, 2008) was the controversial portrait of a lower class prostitute leading a double life – casts an unsentimental gaze at these humble lives that the “new and harmonious society” would like to keep under the rug.”
Reynaud concludes of the latter three films:
During the Mao years, conformity was the norm. Now the powers-that-be want to transform the citizens into quiet, obedient consumers. Films such as Single Man, High Life or Fortune Teller outline the gap between these grand plans and the way people live, point out the heightened contradictions of modernisation. Whether they resort to fictionalisation or experimental techniques, they manage to capture something of this reality that Lacan perceived as left over between the symbolic (the laws) and the imaginary (the utopias of socialism or free market).
Read Reynaud’s complete festival report at Senses of Cinema.