Whilst Xiao Wu focused on one individual experiencing the transition to capitalism in China, Platform follows a theatrical troupe during the 1980s, a period of vast change as Deng Xiaoping instituted economic changes. Jia Zhangke’s second feature is stylistically very different from the handheld realism of Xiao Wu; often the motionless camera observes the action in long takes. Micheal Berry, in his excellent BFI Film Classic book on the ‘Hometown trilogy’, compares the style to Ozu; I was reminded of Miklos Jansco where action often wonders offscreen.
Despite the stylisation the film still feels realist; location shooting and non-professional actors and the ordinary lives of the protagonists suggest we’re seeing an authentic vision of a Chinese backwater. Berry mentions that the DVD cut is an hour shorter than the original, it is Jia’s preferred version, and a lot of explicatory material has been excised. That might be one of the reasons I was occasionally confused as to what was going on. Similarly, I didn’t pick up on all the cultural references; however, that’s part of the point of watching ‘world’ cinema: to learn.
Although there are realist aspects, the film also has almost-surreal moments. For example when Zhong Ping goes to a meeting with a new perm, a signifier of modernity, she’s the butt of jokes; ‘you look like a flamenco dancer’. Cut to the same setting, a run down hall, with Zhong dancing in a resplendent red flamenco dress. Similarly, another scene is interrupted by a ‘one child parade’; however that wasn’t contrived but were an occurence during the late ’70s.
Jia also swamps the mise en scene in blue (all trucks in China seem to be blue!), red and green also predominate. This stylisation aesthetises the film suggesting the film is more than reflecting people’s lives but a statement about ’80s China.