24 City Jia Zhangke

24 City Jia Zhangke
Jia Zhangke is often hailed as one of the world’s greatest directors, but he’s topped even his best in this devastating depiction of change in the economic juggernaut of China.

The subject is the enormous, state-owned Factory 420, built in the ’50s and about to be demolished, so as to pave the way for the luxury apartment complex of the title. Mixing documentary interviews and staged monologues, Jia reveals the lives of 420’s workers, who have devastating stories to tell, and shows their various paths.

Actors include the director’s regular Zhao Tao, fifth generation icon Lv Liping and Joan Chen playing someone who looks like Joan Chen. The scarce jobs, power plays and personal tragedies stand in stark contrast to the wheels of history rudely interrupting their lives.

As with his recent, amazing Still Life, the film features people carrying on regardless as people make choices on their behalf. The mise-en-scène for the interviews is at once simple and micro-managed, making note of the environments that somehow have more power than the people they surround.

Jia was a hard person for me to like for a long time; he seemed to succumb to the ugly forces of global economics he claimed to decry. But in his latest work, he’s struck a balance between what his figures want and what oppresses them. 24 City is a movie where everything clicks, with a director who’s found the nuance for his voice and hits the high, sad notes with devastating accuracy.

It’s one of the essential films of the last decade and that will reward multiple, fascinated viewings. (Films We Like)