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July 12, 2016

Mountains May Depart


Shan he gu ren
Jia Zhangke - 2015
Kino Lorber BD Region A

Jia's newest film is in three parts, with each part filmed in a different aspect ratio. The screen gets progressively wider, from 1.33, to 1.85, and finally 2.35. The shift in screen shape is symbolic of the characters drifting further apart from each other. Simultaneous to the change in screen shapes is the time element of the narrative, starting at 1999, then 2014, and finally 2025.

The film opens with a group of young people dancing to the Pet Shop Boy's song, "Go West". Even though Jia has stated he used the song because he found it "catchy", it does encapsulate the choices of some of the characters, as well as what has happened in the newly capitalistic China. Three old friends, Tao, Jinsheng and Liangzi meet at a cafe. Jinsheng and Liangzi have let each other know of their romantic intentions towards Tao. The three, all twenty-five years old, grew up in a China where the cultural revolution has long past. Jinsheng likes to show off his material success with his new car, making his money with a successful gas station. Liangzi works at a mine, doling out helmets, in an industry that is hurt by the low cost of coal. Jinsheng buys the mine Liangzi works at, firing him for refusing to give up on Tao. Tao does choose to marry Jinsheng, This portion of the film takes place in Fenyang. Both men have jobs that are related to natural resources. As the narrative progresses, China, as presented by Jia, technology eventually supersedes industry. Jinsheng goes west, to Shanghai, and later, Melbourne, Australia. Linagzi goes west as a migrant miner.

Tao stays in Fenyang. A wealthy divorcee, Jinsheng has left while Liangji makes a brief return in her life. Tao's son grows up in Australia, forgetting how to speak Chinese, forgetting the name of his mother. What is at the heart here is an exploration of what it means to have a Chinese identity, both within and outside of China. Tao's favorite song is "Take Care" by Sally Yeh. What makes this a curious choice is that Yeh was born in Taiwan, and is best known for singing Cantonese pop songs, as well as starring in Hong Kong films. I wish that Kino Lorber has seen fit to provide subtitles for the song, which would have aided in placing it greater context. As it is, including Sally Yeh in the mix provides another look into what it means to be Chinese.

The conclusion is not particularly deep, with the idea that freedom is more of a state of mind than being in a different city or country. Still there is something sweet and satisfying in watching actress Zhao Tao perform a final, solo dance.

Posted by peter at July 12, 2016 02:36 PM