IMDB Score – 7.3
Directed By – Zhangke Jia
Starring – Tao Zhao, Zhou Lan, Sanming Han, Lizhen Ma, and Hongwei Wang
Citizens return to a flooded town to salvage what they can and say good-bye to things they lost.
It’s funny how my Netflix queues tend to come together at weird points. Two films directed by Zhangke Jia managed to find their way into future viewing by me and I didn’t even plan the damn thing. “Still Life” came in the mail yesterday and I have “A Touch of Sin” lined up for my next viewing in my Instant Queue. I’ve never seen any of his films before and did not plan this is the slightest. Weird.
Anyway, obviously I sat down to watch Still Life” first, as the mail service is longer and more expensive. Gotta get those discs out of here quick so that my monthly bill is worth it. The film ended up being a pretty interesting watch, albeit very slow, which is not a negative. The film centers around two people who never meet during the duration of the film, as they try to seek out their spouses whom they haven’t seen for years. The story told in the film is a loose one. Neither story arch comes into full focus and only briefly concludes by the end of the film. However, this is a unique film. Zhangke Jia managed to tell and show a lot more than what was most likely written down in the script. The film takes place in the area near the Three Gorges Dam that is to be demolished before eventually being flooded by the dam. Some parts have already been flooded and the rest is being taken care of as the Dam project begins to progress. We are literally seeing people having to move out of areas where they spent the majority of their lives, and they can’t take everything. They have to choose. What is important? What is to stay behind. It is this theme where the emotion comes from in the form of our two protagonists quests to find their spouses. When they find them, will they try to salvage what is left? Will they let them go to nature? Powerful stuff.
The film is gorgeous by the way. In an almost Michael Haneke style, Zhangke Jia let the camera sit a lot and just take in the silence and body language of what was being shown. There were many shots of characters standing before a lush and open landscape that was both beautiful and frightening due to its humongous scale. Images of boats traveling through huge gorges painted most of the scenes and still camera shots of town inhabitants smoking who knows what as they take a break from their labor fill in the cracks. I love this kind of film making. By leaving the camera still on a subject, and letting the scene play out, I get a more realistic feel and can enter the world easier. It also lets the powerful moments register with more weight when you’re not having a rising maelstrom of lights and music to scream to the viewer that what they are witnessing is important. Don’t pander to me film. Let me do the work occasionally.
“Still Life” is a very unique but ultimately rewarding film with subtle imagery galore and packed with symbolism. It may not be a re watchable film, but the photography and heavy message of letting go gave me a unique experience and a good reintroduction to Chinese cinema. I’ll be watching Zhangke Jia’s most recent film “A Touch of Sin” next.
Suggested Viewing – Still Walking, Poetry, Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives