Film reveals family dynamics in capitalist China
Jia Zhangke, cinema's skilled historian of a China evolving so rapidly that its own citizens can scarcely keep up, strikes a melancholic chord in Mountains May Depart. This is a sombre portrait of a capitalist-age Chinese family in an epic spanning a quarter century of intertwined lives and continents.
In 2000, in the city of Fenyang, Tao, a twenty-five year old shopkeeper, rejects Liangzi, a labourer whom she loves, to marry a wealthy young businessman Jinsheng. The couple have a son and the capitalist Jinsheng ominously names him Dollar.
Fourteen years later, Liangzi is dying of cancer and can't pay for treatment; his wife asks Tao (now divorced) for a loan. At the same time, Jinsheng buys a house in Melbourne and plans to move there with Dollar, and this is where the last part of the film, set in 2025, takes place. The teen-age Dollar, now an Anglicised and alienated college student, begins a surprising love affair that causes him to face his memories of China.
Zhangke likes to comment on fiscal inequality and with the 21st century-style Chinese capitalism here, he longs not so much to turn back the hands of time, but to ever so slightly slow them down.
This snapshot of capitalism finds the filmmaker, like several of his characters, venturing for the first time outside his home turf and mother tongue. Reviewers feel that the decision to shoot so much of it in English cripples the final chapter.
We can admire all of Zhangke's strengths in the earlier sections: meticulous framing, an innate feel for the landscape and finely-wrought characterisations. Mountains May Depart could well be the director's defining statement on the way that his nation has changed over the past few decades and his heroic refusal to be content making the same sort of movie, but perhaps he could have been a touch subtler about it.
Mountains May Depart , directed by Jia Zhangke, screening Thursday June 15, 6pm, Suter Theatre, 208 Bridge St, Nelson. Members only, join at the door.