Monday, October 18, 2010
Xiaogang Feng's adaption of the novel Zhang Ling by Su Xiaowei is about the 1976 Tangshan earthquake and its aftermath over the next 32 years. It is a film that will kick you in the heart and leave you a ball of mush. Its one of the most powerfully emotional films of the year and even though I don't know at what level I like it I have to put it on my list of the Best Films of 2010 since few film have made me this emotional.
The story begins hours before the earthquake starts. Things are not right and the animals know it. Insects swarm, fish try to flee their tanks. The people are unaware. Late at night the sky goes purple and the earth moves. When its done 250,000 people (maybe more) were dead. The film follows one family, a mother, father and their twin children, a boy and a girl. The earthquake divides the family, father is killed, the children are trapped. Mom has to make a horrific choice that will play out for the next thirty two years. Its not giving anything away to say that the young girl left for dead doesn't die and the course back is the bulk of the movie.
A film of people, the horror of the first 20 minutes comes because what we are watching is the destruction of the lives of real people. When one woman cries out "God you Bastard!" you feel the depth of her pain. The emotion of the next hour and forty odd minutes of screen time and 32 years of movie time works because we have real people on screen. We feel for everyone, mother and son, the lost daughter and her adoptive parents. These are real people and not cyphers or stand ins. Often I wanted to say it was too soap opera but at the same time the choices felt real and right.
The film is also an examination in the changes in China over the decades. What made the mother make the choice she did? Societal attitudes. We watch the gowth of women in Chinese society as attitudes change. We also see how China grows from a closed society to one that is more open so that when the Sichuan earthquake happens in 2008, help from the outside can come in. There is more going on then just soap opera.
I don't want to say too much since the film's power comes from its story and I don't want to tell you too much.
In its way the film is a masterpiece. Like the directors earlier Assembly which I reviewed back on Memorial Day, this is a film that is kind of built backwards with the big "action" at the start and the quiet contemplation afterward. This film is playing in Asia on IMAX screens and I wonder how that is going over since after the first 20 minutes it's all small scale story telling.
You need to see this film. Its a wonderful story of hope and rebirth.
Its out on import DVD and is worth tracking down.
Actually my question is who is responsible for this not getting play at the major film festivals? I suspect that the New York Asian Film festival didn't get it because it opened after that but why isn't it at the New York Film Festival or say Venice or Toronto? Its one of the more emotionally charged films of the year and worth more than the oblivion I fear it maybe resigned to. (Then again word came last week that this is China's official choice for the Oscars, so their is hope)
Search this one out. You may not love it, but I think you'll at least like it.