Thursday, September 25, 2014

Jiang Zhangke's Still Life (2006): The Chinese way of coping change and the heartbreak it brings

Director Jia Zhangke shows through the lives of two individuals, a man who is coal miner, and a woman who is middle class -- their stories are separate but they are intertwined through the involvement of their respective partners, the wife in the first case, and the husband in the second, in the building of the Three Gorges dam. The coal-miner's wife belongs to the region, which i being demolished as it will get submerged under the reservoir, and the husband of the woman who is a party functionary engaged with the dam work. The man and the woman are from Shanxi. She meets her husband, and she tells him of her decision to marry another man and seeks divorce. The coal-miner has to go back to Shanxi to earn money to take his wife back by paying the 30,000 yuan debt of her brother. In the process we see how people are working in and around the dam, pulling down structures, relocating.The story is structured around symbolic objects - Cigarettes,Liquor, Tea and Toffee.
There is no protest against the dam. The people have no view. The party functionaries consider it as the fulfillment of Mao's dream. But there is sadness and longing for the past and for things being lost, and this is beautifully expressed through the songs which are placed well in the narrative of the film. But the people do not complain. They accept the new and remember the old with a stoic temper, both men and women.
What comes through is the hard life of the people, who have to demolish the old towns so that they will build the new.

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