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Still Life

~ Venice Film Festival ~ Winer ~ Golden Lion

Zhang Ke Jia has always been interested in the dislocation of contemporary Chinese existence (his last film was The World, set at a theme park outside Beijing), but as his movies have gradually broadened in scope they've also developed a current of wry comedy and even tenderness. Still Life is set in the extraordinary landscape around Fengjie, a small city on the Yangtze River that's being demolished and moved to make way for the rising waters of the Three Gorges dam, the largest such project in the world. In this end-of-the-world setting, life goes on after its fashion; in two parallel narratives Jia follows a working-class man and middle-class woman who have come to Fengjie to find their respective missing spouses. One critic friend of mine has suggested that Still Life is a comedy of sorts, and he may be right. The missing husband and wife are found, after much effort, but their presence doesn’t really resolve anything. Instead, the story moves forward as a series of remarkable images and tiny human encounters, almost meaningless in themselves. A man and woman dance on a riverfront promenade that will soon be submerged; another man does bad impressions of Chow Yun-Fat movie dialogue. In between workdays spent destroying their own city, demolition crews drink, stage fights with each other, wax rhapsodic about the beautiful Chinese scenery (as seen on banknotes). It would be too easy to describe Jia's tone as ironic; it can be wistful or whimsical or deliberately obscure. One thing I'm confident about is that one viewing is not enough to absorb Still Life. It strikes me as Jia's finest film yet, both a docudrama with obvious social and historical relevance and a subtle, slow, quietly powerful chronicle of human loss. It never seems inaccessible or willfully arty, but it won’t yield all its secrets on the first date. – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
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Directed by: 
Zhang Ke Jia
Running Time: 
China/Hong Kong
Mandarin with English subtitles
Tao Zhao, Sanming Han, Zhubin Li, Hong Wei Wang
Screenplay by: 
Zhang Ke Jia and Na Guan

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