Thursday 10 April 2008

Still Life - Rising Waters

Still Life is one of those 'little' films that stays with you longer than most big ones. It isn't easy to get into; you just find yourself in a washed-out, green-tinted, industrial landscape following a man trying to find someone. It's a while before you find out that it's his wife and daughter he's looking for and they have been separated for 15 years. Then there's a woman also looking for someone, and she is not connected to the first family. No one is connected. There is only the temporary comradeship of the men in the demolition gangs, but the gangs are at odds with each other and settle disputes with brutal violence.
The Three Gorges Dam is splitting families and whole communities as its waters rise 156 metres (just over 500 feet) and drown the towns and villages of the gorges. Perhaps the green-tint can be understood as the look of imminent submersion.
The scenes of couples meeting after years of separation and trying to find the words to talk again are as tense and moving as anything I have seen for years.
It seems cold-hearted to point out that setting personal and family dislocation against huge impersonal events is precisely the formula of epics like War & Peace, Zhivago and others, but it lets me suggest that this can stand alongside them.

1 comment:

BLURT said...

I'd earmarked Still Life as a Chinese film about people looking for their relatives. So a few minutes into Luxury Car on Sunday I did a double take - a country schoolteacher arriving in a Chinese city to try and find his missing son. Had I got the wrong film? No. Coincidentally a couple of the other Chinese films I've seen recently have also had this theme in common: Not One Less (a substitute teacher in a village school, barely older than her pupils goes to the city to find one of her pupils who's run away to look for work) and the very dark Night Train (a female court bailiff/executioner approaching middle age searches for romantic involvement but falls in with someone who turns out to be the husband of one of the condemned).

All of the above-mentioned tie in with the germ of the idea behind the New Rural Perspectives event: the fact that sometime between 2007 and 2008 there was a shift in world population from a predominantly rural to an urban environment. Most of these demographic changes have taken place in the developing world and the very nature of cities is changing in such places as Lagos, Mumbai, Jakarta and Shanghai. What then does the countryside that's left behind stand for? And what does it stand for in cinema? Certainly in some of these Chinese film it's the repository of traditional values (witness the funeral rituals at the close of Luxury Car), the family, backwardness but also resilience. In Luxury Car too, the shiny surfaces and gaudy colours of the sleazy karaoke bar where the schoolteacher's daughter works as an escort provide the perfect counterpoint for the anomy of modern urban living.