Coal miner San-Ming arrives in the southern Chinese town of Fangje looking for his estranged wife and daughter, whom he has not seen in sixteen years. With an address in hand, he is taken to the rivers edge and told the house lies somewhere below the waves. The disappointed San-Ming remains none the less undeterred to track them down amongst the construction sites and rubble which characterize the town’s ever changing face.
In parallel, we follow Shen Hong, a nurse looking for her husband who has set up life in the town, with the help of an archaeologist friend. She is more sheltered from the harsh conditions facing people like San-Ming, but in the misery merry-go-round of displaced persons, she is no exception. The combination of the two tales take us along this moving portrait of a mutating China.
This town of Fangje lies on the route of the Yangtze river, which is being dammed up in the mega project of the Three Gorges Dam. The protagonists’ lives are but specks in an ocean controlled by a huge, seemingly other world of bureaucracy. The director does not hesitate to throw in allusions to Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, or or a Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and even surreal elements to capture the absurdity of the lives-crushing-machine of a state as it rolls in the name of progress. But, peculiarly enough, it leaves behind the characters. They serve the great purpose of the state, but they merely act out the motions, subjected, without emotions, without change. A unique long stare into the tragedy of the world’s most populous state.
Returning home to Paris, Marion (Julie Delpy) introduces her American fiancé Jack to the remnants of her life on the continent. Her left bank bohemian parents and friends surround the young neurotic couple increasing their already rampant quarrel rate. The leading theme in this comedy is the question of whether or not their love will survive the confrontation with her ‘other life’, mostly personified in a string of ex-lovers.
Filled with hilarious dialogues, often in French, with the unfortunate English-speaking ‘Grizzly’ Jack caught in the middle as the out of place kitchen stool in the living-room, the movie spins on at a break neck speed from one mini-catastrophe to another. There does not seem to be person in Paris not willing to interfere in their lives, as if they did not have enough on their hands already with each other.
Do not let the unattractive poster put you off, and spend some time in Julie Deply’s world. If there is any advice to be drawn from this movie, it would be that when you do bring your hairy loved one home, consider bringing him up to date him a little about your past … at least a little …
A Romeo and Julliet story set in a contemporary turbulent war-torn Israel. Noam returns to Tel Aviv from his tour of duty at an Israeli checkpoint, to meet up with his friends Lulu and Yali in the little bubble of their lives. His mild indifference to the harsh reality of his country’s predicament recedes even further into the background by his meeting of Ashraf. Their budding love story is none the less weighted down by the perpetual violence which ends up blowing up in their face.
At times the tale is as light as a television series, at times accurate and funny as a cinema masterpiece, and at times awkwardly messy in its construction. We can forgive some of the incredulous lightness as the movie is sufficiently strong elsewhere, but the last half hour submerges the audience in a rush to completion of themes which exceed the scope of the film, or should have received due attention. This last theme is that of the cycle of perpetual violence.
There are much better films about the spiral of violence, both set in Israel and elsewhere, but here it is seemly thrust into the story. As a backdrop to credible twenty-somethings trying to make something out of their lives, a little oblivious of the world around them, leaves enough impact promote a ‘peace’. But instead we get to know the charming and somewhat introverted character of Ashraf well enough to understand that his frustrations do not lead to the ending the director has in mind for him. An ending which is clearly supposed to bring home the message of the spiral of violence.
On leaving this impressive film, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the depth of the troubles . The inconsistency of the script and a weak key turning point scene near the end do not ruin the film, but it does render it un-quotable as a cultural reference. A shame, but the director Fox is on the right track.