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Still Life

September 9, 2010

Still Life (2006)
Director: Jia Zhangke
Actors: Han Sanming, Zhao Tao, Wang Hongwei

Synopsis: The effect of China’s Three Dams project on a local community….

Review: Weird yet wonderful, Still Life is a mesmeric depiction of the otherworldiness of China’s Three Gorges Dam project and its (literal) swallowing up of reams of nearby towns and communities. Visually and aurally the film is an absolute gem, and director Jia Zhangke particularly excels in the sound design which has an uncanny concentrated sense for the rhythmic in everyday industrial noises that could almost pass for music. The use of high-def digital technology lends an immediacy to the action, and there is no hiding behind the fictionality of technically-advanced studio cameras with their seamless framing and numerous lenses. Instead there are awkward pans, and moments where the contrast is so out-of-kilter that the background skyline is bleached out (creating a suitably surreal effect for the narrative). It is only in story that Zhangke slightly falters, tacking on two opaque tales of familial dislocation to symbolise the universal fragmentation of community caused by this drastic social project. It is in Zhangke’s less-determined role though, as creator of dreamscapes that I will find most reason to call this film an important document on the inexorable advance of early Twenty-First Century Chinese modernisation. (May 2009)

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