Few filmmakers have perhaps chronicled and critiqued the sweeping sociocultural transitions in their countries, with such brutal honesty, as Jia Zhangke has over his career. The enormous Three Gorges Dam’s construction on the Yangtze, despite its promised collective benefits, led to the displacement of over a million people through submersion of towns and villages. His powerful yet nuanced masterpiece Still Life provided for an extraordinarily minimalist, profoundly affecting and deeply melancholic exploration of the devastating human cost of development and progress. Set in a small town on the banks of the river – a section of it is already lost into the river, and preparations are underway for the next round of flooding – the film chronicled lives of the displaced, the disaffected, the disenfranchised and the marginalized through the tale of two individuals. Sanming (Han Sanming), a coal-miner from Shanxi province who’s come down in search of his long-lost wife and daughter, takes the job of demolishing buildings like the other migrant workers, while hoping to be reunited with them; Shen (Zhao Tao), on the other hand, has come down for a couple of days, also from Shanxi, hoping to seek formal separation from her estranged husband. The understated style, contributed by Jhangke’s rigorous visual aesthetic and the forlorn body language of the two brilliant principal actors, laced the film with a haunting sense of loneliness, pathos, lyricism and disquieting inevitability; Zhangke’s bristling political angst, too, was palpable by his microcosmic representation of China’s so-called “floating population”. The film’s breathtaking visual canvas, achieved through masterful framing of shots and how the desolate backdrops tell as much a story as the characters, added haunting dimensions to its poignant beauty, depth and eloquence.
Director: Jia Zhangke
Genre: Drama/Social Drama/Political Drama