Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mountains May Depart

Film Society this week had a Chinese movie, Mountains May Depart (dir Jia Zhang-ke). Its a film in three parts: I found the first two very moving, beautifully paced, but the last part dragged a bit. It opens with a group dance - the sort I saw a lot when in China, done as a type of exercise - to the Pet Shop Boys (no doubt to give a hint of the Western influences that come into play - the song is Go West). The first third is more or less a love triangle, set in 1999, in Fenyang (north of Xi'an). Tao has two mates - Liang and Jingsheng. They are both coalminers, sot of: Liang distributes helmets and ends up working at the coalface, while Jingsheng owns coalmines, is an "elite" compared to the other two (Tao's dear old dad has some sort of shop). They're all pretty relaxed with each other, she's perky and one of the gang,  until Jingsheng realises he likes Tao in that special way. Instead of winning her affection just by being a good bloke, he kind of bullies her, and buys the coalmine in which Liang works and fires him. It is only at this point that it becomes obvious that Liang has the same sort of idea about Tao. She has to choose, and it is never clear why, she picks Jingsheng. Liang leaves town, and to make it clear he's not coming back, throws his keys inside his house.

There are lots of scenes of a China in transition - road building projects, a road bridge with the pillars of a bridge under construction towering above it. Jingsheng himself is a sign of this future, with his capitalist ways - when he and Tao marry, he even calls their son Dollar!

The next section is set in 2014. Jingsheng has moved off to Shanghai, and doesn't make a showing. Instead, this part is mainly about Liang, Tao, her dad and her son. Liang comes back home with a new wife and wee baby - remarkably, his house is still unoccupied so he can move back in. He's sick, cancer, and needs expensive medical treatment, which he can't afford. His wife suggests he touch his friends and family for a loan - this is clearly why he meets with an old workmate, but when he hears that this fellow has himself borrowed heavily to get together enough to start a new life elsewhere (coal is finished), doesn't say a word about his cancer or need for money. Completely classy. His wife goes to see Tao - this is the bit that really got to me - who comes by and gives him the money he needs.

Sadly, her dad dies: she gets Dollar to come home for the funeral (flying into the strangest airport I've seen - she's walking around the apron and the grass beside the runway, there's an airbridge that deposits passengers on to the tarmac but no apparent terminal. Maybe they had no permission to film it.) Dollar really doesn't know her, but they spend time together - they go driving, listen to some songs, take a slow train trip, and she cooks for him. Eventually, he opens up to her, and reveals his dad has plans to move to Melbourne.

This is where the third section takes place, in 2025. The only futuristic elements were with tablets and phones - they're transparent. All of the unpleasant, bullying elements of Jingsheng have come to the fore - he's really a caricature at this point. He has a rant about freedom at one point, but the only thing he does with his freedom is buy lots of guns. Dollar seems to be a nice young man, learning Chinese - an obvious signal of how far from his roots he has come - and befriends his teacher, who's about his mother's age. To avoid having to invent a futuristic car, she drives an impeccably preserved 1970's Valiant, like this one.

This does progress to bed, but the future they might have is deliberately left vague. Again, Dollar finally opens up and talks about what he remembers of Tao - he says her name, she hears him in China and the movie ends with her dancing - resuming a long-abandoned tradition of dancing in the New Year.


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