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.