Still Life Jia Zhangke

Still Life Jia Zhangke
This latest from China’s bad seed Jia Zhangke arrives two years after its Berlin premiere — better late than never, as it’s the first must-see movie of 2008. The thorn in globalisation’s side this time turns his attention to the devastation wreaked by the massive Three Gorges Dam project, an engineering feat that has required the displacement of two million people and the destruction of numerous cities dating back centuries.

The nominal story involves a father looking for the ex-wife and child he lost 16 years ago, a task made difficult with addresses that no longer exist due to their demolition and a landscape so alienated as to be all but uninhabitable. People carry on of course, but they don’t make much of an impression — save for a few individuals seeking reparations for industrial misdeeds, everybody seems resigned to the new world order and carry on regardless as China’s economic monster leaves nothing but scorched earth in its wake.

One doesn’t exactly get poetry from Jia’s images, but one gets the very pointed sense that people no longer have control over the world in which they live. As with the director’s other films, the characters are constantly being uprooted and manipulated by plans made by the powerful on earth that will never really belong to them. For those who find the neo-Luddite homilies of Fight Club "subversive,” here’s a more genuinely troubling exploration of the process that swathes us Westerners in our cheap goods and consumerist cocoons.

The film brilliantly evokes the destroyed countryside without being showy. Every shot has a point that goes beyond mere pictorialism, driving home its point with a minimum of waste and a maximum of force, making it the one movie not to be missed in theatres right now. (Peaceville)