Jia Zhangke’s extraordinary masterpiece 24 City is a work of tour de force filmmaking – even if, ironically, that might appear counterintuitive due to its profoundly poignant, meditative, rigorous and austere nature. He’d crafted a magnificent exploration of China’s sociocultural flux and ensuing human displacements in Still Life, and the same thematic thread was continued through the premise here, viz. demolition of a state-owned military-industrial complex which, at its peak of productivity during the Korean and Vietnam Wars had employed 30,000 workers and formed a township in itself, and building in its place a sprawling apartment complex. The film, therefore, covered two connected displacements – getting in place its massive workforce from all across when the factory was setup in 1958, and thereafter, the downsizing once the war efforts petered down and eventual shutdown. Jia made this in the form of intimate oral histories akin to Svetlana Alexievich’s literary approach in order to capture the deeply personal stories and anecdotes that powerfully humanized the cost of “progress”, and, in the process, painting a heart-wrenching picture of loss, loneliness and desolation. Yet, in an act of outrageous genre-bending audacity, he mixed non-professionals with established actors for the interviews, thus blending documentary facts with fictionalized facts, and therefore underpinning an incisive commentary on the futility of absolute authenticity when it comes to memories and the idea that there’s no such thing as 100% objective truth. While all the monologues – penned by the poet Zhai Yongming – were piercing and poignant, the most breathtaking one involved the stunning Joan Chen featuring as a lovelorn lady who’s been given a moniker by her co-workers after a film (Little Flower) which, ironically, she herself had starred in.
Director: Jia Zhangke
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Documentary