Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Melancholy from the Future

Mountains May Depart (2015) - Jia
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Mountains May Depart might be Jia's most melodramatic film to date, but it's any less great than his other films in chronicling the rapidly changing Chinese society. His hometown Fenyang in Shanxi Province is once again the backdrop - vast flat area of upturned earth and old ruins. His choice of three time period shot on different aspect ratio: full frame 4:3 for 1999, 16:9 for 2014 and anamorphic for 2025 isn't too distracting, gimmicky or overstated, simply because it's Jia Zhangke film. His muse/wife Zhao Tao might be a little too old to play 26 year old woman, so is Liang Jing Dong or Zhang Yi in the first part of the film. But it does make sense when you think about Jia's first hit Platform came out in 2000. Zhao was in her early 20s then, that the end of millennium was a big turning point for China becoming a global superpower/capitalism on steroids. That these actors have weathered the tumultuous time with Jia, that they are sharing that collective experience with the audience. It is more apparent with his use of music: from Pet Shop Boys' 'Go West' to a sentimental Canto pop, extremely popular in the 1990s in not only mainland China but all over Asia.

First segment tells a love triangle of childhood friends- both Jinsheng and Liangzi loves Tao. Jinsheng hit big and is a raging capitalist now and wants to get rid of the forever third wheel Liangzi for good. First he buys out the coal mine Liangzi works at and fires him. But his intentions are more sinister. Tao, experiencing confessions of love for the first time, chooses Jinsheng over mild mannered Liangzi. In the back of her mind, she knows she is making a bad choice but ends up marrying Jinsheng anyway. Liangzi ends up leaving Fenyang.

The second segment is set in present: Tao and Jinsheng are divorced. He got the custody of their son Dollar (I kid you not). The father and son live in Shanghai. Liangzi's got a lung cancer working in the mines and comes back home with his new born baby and a wife. Dollar comes home for Tao's father's funeral. The kid's wearing ascot for crying out loud. There are some bonding moments with Dollar and Tao but will he remember her at all?

The third one takes place in Australia, where Jinsheng and Dollar live. Dollar is a college student now, thoroughly westernized and doesn't speak a word of Mandarin. He is not happy about the school or life in general. There he meets an older Chinese professor, Mia (great Sylvia Chang) who becomes Dollar's surrogate mother of sorts. He experiences a sense of deja vu when he's with her. She encourages him to visit his long lost mother whose name he doesn't even remember.

I would describe Jia's melodrama, reflecting rootlessness and losing soul in a rapidly industrializing society, as something that Ozu might have considered making in the 60s. It's interesting to see that Jia foresees this rootlessness happening for the next generation of Chinese. It's like predisposed collective melancholy that will hit China like tidal waves in the near future. Poignant and sad, Mountains is another great film from the modern master.

Mountains May Depart is now playing at FSLC's Howard Gilman Theater. Please visit their website for tickets.

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