Winner of the Golden Lion of St. Mark at Venice, Jia Zhang-Ke’s Sanxia haoren, shot in high-definition video, is an awesome “film” set against the grandeur and ecology of Nature as it is ruined for the sake of progress (here, as elsewhere, a shibboleth), commercialization and globalization. The Three Gorges Dam project nears completion on the Yangtze River, upending countless lives as land inhabited for thousands of years is submerged, wiping out the past as though it were litter. The daunting mountains and placid sky, insisting on eternity, are violated by shabby Chinese greed encapsulated in a magic trick on a packed ferry below: paper being turned into euros being turned into yuans amidst cell-phone chats, hustling, in-the-momentness.
Two persons have come to Fengjie from Shanxi, Jia’s home province, in search of his or her spouse. The divorced couple will be renewed; the other will fall apart. Shen Hong, a nurse, has not seen her spouse in two years; Han Sanming, a coal miner, hasn’t seen his in sixteen years. “Why did you wait so long?” his former wife almost rhetorically asks. This couple, who have a daughter, needs a jolt of continuity with the past (the address with which Han came armed is already underwater), whereas the younger couple can better adapt to tumultuous change.
The film’s slow, rhythmic pace, borrowed from Hou Hsiao-hsien, becomes a metaphor that we feel: it suggests the speed at which the soul experiences life. Ripping through this is the vast demolition going on, the sights and sounds of which conform to the law of gravity; the rubble generated suggests a war-bombed city. Han becomes part of a demolition crew.
Sanxia haoren is in color, but an image of the city in the distance appears in black and white.
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