Still Life

18757118.jpgSanxia haoren

Jia Zhang Ke :: China :: 2006 :: 1h48

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.

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