I love this title.
I sometimes used to feel like my life was a still life. Not so much anymore. This usually happens when you’re a teenager.
What I mean to talk about in this post is this film, Still life, from Jia Zhang-ke.
A while ago, I had a job interview at a luxury company which name starts with an H. I created a mini project for them, based on this film. I certainly didn’t feel like they got it, but I really liked it. For sure it was a “creative” idea, what a shame it didn’t get me further in the recruitment process.
One of my favourite images from the film.
Do you know Jia Zhang Ke?(the spelling of the name is inconsistent, it changes between Jia Zhangke and Jia Zhang Ke so I’ll use the one I prefer)
He’s a chinese director, and I think he started to really produce films towards the end of the 1990s. Jia Zhang Ke jas become somewhat of a controversial figure, as he’s one pf those chinese directors who has received official gobernment backing. What could thos change? Probably financial, distribution and production help, but also maybe a compromise with the censorship bureau. This being said I don’t find his films to be particularly showing the gobernment policies in a favourable light. Maybe a more knowledgeable critic would discern.
The first film I really saw of him was The World世界, a grim realistic story about an employee of a Beijing theme park, called Beijing World Park. What it’s really about is her struggle to live, to find contentment and interest in her life. The whole thing is very slow-paced. It was really interesting because it felt really genuine, the actress being really believable. And obviously the actual theme park is an amazing setting.
Another thing that was interesting (but didn’t impress me) was little animated scenes used as transitions between scenes. I’d seen the same process in The taste of tea by Katsuhito Ishii, and I found it much more successful and adapted to the ambiance of the film. This being said, it DID brighten the story and provide something of a buffer against what could be overall a very depressing story.
Of course I was intrigued. So when I heard about Still life, I decided to give it a shot.
Notice the great colours
Say hello to the two characters of Still life, man and woman.
Obviously, they have got names, Han Samning and Shen Hong; but I personaly felt they were irrelevant. Maybe there are some cultural undertones to their names but I didn’t get them.
Starting with a search, the story slowly unfolds around the main characters. They evolve in the area surroubding the blablabla of the three gorges dam; Cities that are gping to be submerged, semi urban areas in a slow agony. Both protagonists are looking for someone and this search will be the reason for the director to show the eerie landscape with its last remaining pockets of human activity.
The views of these destroyed and empty panoramas are amazing. Scale seems to increase tenfold the emotional factor of every scene. When Shen Hong sits down to have a drink, the nackgrpund gives her wariness and despair epic proportions. This balance between the incredible set and the restraint in the actors game make it feel really authentic, maybe justifying the term “social realism” for this film.