A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Monday, October 29, 2018
A Retrospective of the Wildly Prolific Chinese Filmmaker Wang Bing at the Metrograph
Beginning Saturday November 17, Metrograph will present a five-film retrospective of Wang Bing, plus Old Men (Lina Yang, 1999), selected by the director. The films of Wang look after those left behind by the much-publicized story of China’s 21st century prosperity—the migrant workers traveling to the big cities and the rural poor barely getting by—but they sternly discourage the touristic eye or casual, cheap “compassion.” Wang makes films that, with their emphasis on duration and attention to the hard physical facts of poverty, disallow such noncommittal approaches; if you want to see hardship, he seems to tell us, you will have to pay a price of admission. Described by Andrew Chan in Film Comment as “A director intent on swallowing reality whole,” Wang generally works far from Beijing, a favorite locale being the remote Yunnan province, but his oeuvre gets at something central about modern China, seen straightforwardly and without sentiment by this radically original artist, steadfast in his vision and moral purpose.
Supported by the Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation.
Three Sisters(2012/153 mins/DCP) Where Bitter Money sees the migrant worker experience through the lens of those who travel for work, the sorrowful, piercing Three Sisters looks at those who remain to subsist in the old, worn-out villages—in this case a trio of siblings sustaining themselves as almost-orphans, with a particular focus on the eldest, ten-year-old Yingying, who shoulders a more than adult-sized burden of labor, and who, vulnerable yet seemingly indomitable in her endurance, emerges as one of the most haunting documentary subjects of recent memory. Saturday, November 17 - 1:00pm
'Til Madness Do Us Part(2013/227 mins/DCP) Shot almost entirely within the confines of a mental institution in southwest China’s Yunnan province, this claustrophobic opus discovers almost medieval squalor in this modern bedlam, as well as implications that institutionalization is being used as a means to punish disfavored citizens and dissidents. One of Wang’s most difficult films in both form and subject and, for those who take up its challenge, one of his most richly rewarding, finding men and women clinging to the vestiges of humanity in barren, bleak climes. Saturday, November 17 - 4:00pm - Q&A with Wang Bing to follow
Old Men(Yang Lina/1999/94 mins/DCP) A quiet, observational film that embeds us among a community of senior citizens in a Beijing suburb—the most honored members of society according to the old Confucian system, but in modern China, increasingly marginalized and disposable. One of the first DV-shot nonfiction films to come from China, presaging the work of Wang Bing, and a prizewinner at Cinéma du Réel in 2000, making it a landmark in wider international recognition of independent Chinese documentary—a field in which women like Yang continue to fight for recognition. Saturday, November 17 - 8:15pm - Introduced by Wang Bing
Ta'ang(2016/148 mins/DCP) There is a war on in Myanmar, and in the country’s harsh, rugged northern borderlands, members of the Ta’ang minority are fleeing the conflict. Wang’s camera travels along with these determined refugees, capturing the almost lullingly routine sound of artillery reverberating through the mountains, the quiet fortitude of his subjects, and the further trials they will face on arriving in China. “A masterpiece depicting dignity in the face of dehumanizing displacement.”—Travis Jeppesen, Artforum. Sunday, November 18 - 1:00pm
Bitter Money (2016/152 mins/DCP) To understand contemporary China, caught in a Great Leap Forward from feudalism into postmodernity, you can ask for no better guide than Wang Bing, whose films render the lives of the working poor and internal migrant Chinese down to their bare, harsh physical facts. In Bitter Money, Wang follows two teenage cousins journeying together to the city of Huzhou, seeking a better life and discovering only endless labor, abusive interpersonal relationships, and exploitation without recourse. Harrowing and massively humane. Sunday, November 18 - 4:00pm
Fengming(2007/186 mins/DCP) An outlier film in Wang’s filmography, Fengming is carried forward not by action, but by the human voice—specifically, the voice of the eponymous old woman, who in recounting her life story, from her early ardent socialism through the persecution that she and her family endured during the so-called Anti-Rightist Movement of 1957 and later the Cultural Revolution, also narrates the history of modern China. “Has a moral authority similar to that of the Holocaust documentary Shoah.”—Richard Brody, The New Yorker. Saturday, November 24 - 1:00pm