2017年12月2日 星期六

賈樟柯 Jia Zhangke: life in interesting times; Neil Young

Could this be China's Tarkovsky?
The director talks to Nigel Andrews about his epic portrait of a China in transition

Jia Zhangke: life in interesting times The film director talks about his epic portrait of a China in transition 
FT DECEMBER 1, 2017 Nigel Andrews
For years, even decades, he has been the main peak in the mountain range of Chinese cinema. He is Zhang Yimou’s successor and in some ways total opposite. Jia Zhangke is the maverick poet — often “difficult”, rarely showy, determinedly contemporary in his mainly epic-length social fables — of Platform (2000), The World (2004) and the Venice Golden Lion-winning Still Life (2006). 

So the title of his latest film, Mountains May Depart, enigmatic to non-Chinese, has at least this resonance. It could be an echo stealing from the mass if of Jia’s own career and industry prominence. 

What if he did depart? Which Chinese film-maker is left with so large a world signature? The title actually refers to a Chinese proverb: “Time may change rivers and mountains, but our hearts will stay the same.” The movie gives us a giant slug of imagined social history from 1999 to 2025. We witness the changing lives of Tao (Zhao Tao), a girl growing into a woman and mother, and the three men in her life: the tiger capitalist she marries and divorces, a mine-working rival boyfriend, and the capitalist’s son who becomes the main character in the last, eerie, wonderful section set in an Australia as sleekly disorienting as a space station. 

It’s here the film’s calcareous drip of alienations and longings, in a span of events and human stories “inspired” by China’s material growth and its spiritual cost, seems to crystallise. 

Are we watching Jia Zhangke go Tarkovsky? A touch of Solaris from a film-maker freeing up his genre experimentation instincts? (His film before Mountains was A Touch of Sin, riffing on martial arts cinema.) “It’s an aesthetic as well as storytelling choice to set the last part in Australia,” says the slight, attentive, youthful-looking 47-year-old I’m talking to on a Cannes rooftop. “It’s not a distant place geographically. You can fly there from China in seven hours. It’s in Chinese people’s imaginations that it’s remote. A place to escape to. A different world.” 

Zhao Tao in ‘Mountains May Depart’ Thence Tao’s son, called Dollar in a wry corruption of his Chinese name Daole, emigrates. And there too unfolds the oddest of the film’s relationships: a romance between the boy, 16, and a middle-aged woman teacher (veteran Chinese star Sylvia Chang) who evokes, for him, his missing mother. Isn’t this a risky plot development? Oedipus wrecks? Won’t some audiences fidget uncomfortably? It may be one reason this Jia Zhangke film took longer than many to open around the world: including a nearly three-year hiatus in reaching the UK. “It’s not meant to make the film uncomfortable or controversial. It’s more a way to help me examine the idea of freedom. What does freedom mean? If you think about the freedom to love, there are so many restrictions in this case, including age difference. So even though the boy wants individual freedom, he is still restricted by his struggle with the idea of being with an older, mother figure.” “Space Station Australia” — or “Off-world China” — is the perfect place to consummate the film’s probing, disquieting look at global capitalism and its toll. Does Jia feel that China’s own identity is undergoing the corrupting homogenisation of internationalism? “I don’t think so much in terms of national identity as such. I want to look at it through individual transformations. In the film’s last chapter you see that some characters no longer speak their mother tongue. With the loss of language it’s hard for this person [the boy] actually to return home, or to dream of going where he believes his motherland to be. Or ‘mother-ship’! “I want to use the individual dynamics as a metaphor for the social dynamic. We’re a very money-driven society. We want to focus on the economy rather than the people driven by that economy. So I look the whole way from individuals who neglect their emotions to the society that neglects individuals.” The story’s 26-year span means characters drift in and out of view. Key figures vanish for a while. The ex-husband, though heard about, is not seen between 1999 and 2025, though prominent in the first and last years of the tale. We get an uncanny sense of serendipitous, aleatory realism — of lives refusing to imitate the catered cogencies of art. “It reflects the triviality of human connections and relationships,” Jia says. (I let “triviality” pass unchallenged — it’s the word used by Jia’s translator — though I wonder if the intended meaning isn’t “fragility” or “ephemerality”.) “People are parted from each other by death, that’s inevitable. But sometimes while we’re still living we are separated for long periods from those who are important to us. We’re apart for whatever reason: a job, a prospect . . . When I think back on school friends, we spent almost all our young lives together. Then we lose touch. Some friends reappear, some not. The film is very much like that. The triviality” — that word again — “of the way humans connect and disconnect.” Maybe, boldly and disconcertingly, Jia does mean triviality. The powerlessness of people before the destructive or devaluing imperatives of time, nature, age. There’s a vivid and recurring image of explosions in icy rivers, denoting the ineluctable cycle of the seasons. “That’s a very personal memory. I remember it from growing up. It’s about the coming of spring. That’s when they have all these explosions. If you don’t do that, you will have floods because the ice will not flow downstream. You need to be able to break up the ice.” Humanity’s hand on the landscape. Yet it’s such a fragile hand. The poignancy of Mountains May Depart is that the characters can’t hold back the years, or the transformations wrought by the blind-seeming machinery of social and economic change, itself fragmenting lives and families. Reviewers of Jia’s film have eulogised, almost unanimously, its bittersweet ending. It’s a dance scene in the snow. A dance by one person. It picks up a song tune from the movie’s very first scene: the Pet Shop Boys’ “Go West”, a hit in turn-of-millennium Chinese discos. The scene is an image of loneliness, touching and forlornly defiant. It’s also unsentimental, since it refuses to give film-goers the scene they may want and even expect: a reunion of son and mother. “I’m not so much going against what the audience wants; for me the focal point is this particular female character, the mother, who has grown through the film. I really wanted to know what it’s like for her to live alone in the world, with her son somewhere else far away. I wanted to know, at the end of this story, her state of mind. And that’s the scene I came up with.” ‘Mountains May Depart’ is released in the UK on December 15




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