Still LIfe (Sanxia haoren, Hong Kong-China, 2006)

Life in a Ballardian landscape

Life in a Ballardian landscape

A fascinating film set in town about to be submerged by China’s Three Gorges damn. It mixes the naturalism, common in Chinese cinema, of following ordinary people’s ordinary lives with the utterly surreal landscape of a city being destroyed. Jia Zhangke has an astonishing eye for composition so a shot of men sledgehammering a building has stunning beauty.

A man seeks his mail order bride (who left him 16 years earlier) and a woman seeks a two-year missing husband to seek a divorce, set against a gorgeous natural landscape and bonkers moments (the tall building is about to be blown up in the still above). There is also an appearance of a UFO and one building takes off like a spaceship: audacious filmmaking.

Small details resonate too: characters compare how their home towns are represented on banknotes, a marvellous metaphor for capitalist China. Incidentally, the ‘Ballardian’ in the caption refers to British SF writer JG Ballard who specialised in decaying urban landscapes – this film realises his vision.

4 Responses

  1. […] Jia Zhangeke dropped beneath my radar, for some reason, until I saw Still Life (2006); that presented me with the enticing prospect of ‘catching up’ on some terrific […]

  2. […] passage, and hoping that her eight year old son can join her. Zhao is a Jia Zhangke regular (see Still Life) and is quite brilliant in this submissive role whilst conveying her inner steel. My work life […]

  3. […] a fan of Jia Zhangke’s work (see Still Life and Xiao Wu posts) and his latest is no disappointment. The title references the classic  A […]

  4. […] as a melodramatic emblem of how capitalism is making China a place where no one belongs – Still Life is a great example of this. Jingsheng even names his child ‘Dollar’, such is his love […]

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