Chung Kuo China

Ironically, the feeling of almost random drift that periodically recurs in Michelangelo Antonioni’s filmsbringing mysterious density and poetry to his narratives even when the source of this drift appears to be touristicbecomes disastrous when it forms the shaky basis for his only extended documentary. His three-part 1972 miniseries about China, attacked by the Chinese government at the time for both defensible and indefensible reasons, looks rather formless today because it lacks a coherent agenda. The best sequence, in part one, shows a successful cesarean section performed on a cheerful, conscious woman, with acupuncture used as the sole anesthetic; the one with least point, in part three, shows acrobats and jugglers performing onstage. Made at the onset of what now seems like Antonioni’s artistic decline, this documentary can’t hold a candle to Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s less politically skeptical but more focused How Yukong Moved the Mountains (1976). In Italian with subtitles. 217 min. (JR)

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