From the Chicago Reader (January 24, 2008). — J.R.
The fifth feature by Jia Zhang-ke, China’s greatest contemporary filmmaker, is set in the vicinity of China’s immense Three Gorges, where the ongoing construction of the world’s largest dam has already forced the relocation of almost two million people. Against this epic canvas, their paths crisscrossing but never intersecting, a coal miner and a nurse (both from Jia’s home province of Shanxi) search for their former mates. This 2006 drama may seem to be worlds apart from the surreal theme-park setting of Jia’s previous film, The World, but there are similarities of theme, style, scale, and tone: social and romantic alienation in a monumental setting, a daring poetic mix of realism and lyrical fantasy, and an uncanny sense of where our planet is drifting. In Mandarin and Shanxi with subtitles. 107 min. (JR)
… Read more »
Turkish filmmaker Reha Erdem has a feel for the light, shade, colors, and textures of a scenic mountain village, which he shoots gracefully in ‘Scope, often following people along various passageways. He also has a leisurely and not always convincing way of dealing with the troubled lives of three village kids, and his taste for pretentious music and portentous section headings suggest he doesn’t always know when to leave well enough alone. This 2006 feature works better in terms of mood than storytelling. In Turkish with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »
Jia Zhang-ke’s touching and accomplished first feature (1997), cast entirely with nonprofessional actors, is somewhat uncharacteristic in that it’s basically a character study. Set in Jia’s Chinese hometown (Fenyang in Shanxi province), it focuses on a rather pathetic pickpocket who runs a small gang of younger thieves. His profession makes him an outcast and his romantic and social possibilities are steadily shrinking. Though the film lacks the epic sweep of Jia’s subsequent features (Platform, Unknown Pleasures, The World, Still Life), it imparts much about the provincial town, and it’s so impressive in its own right that I can understand why some prefer it to his later work. In Shanxi with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »