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Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Histories, Official and Personal: Jia Zhangke's Still Life
Let's start with an image: a middle-aged man and woman huddled in intimate proximity in the corner of a room. In the middle of the screen is a gaping hole, a wall ripped out of a condemned building, revealing a cityscape so static, it could only be a matte painting. But then, as the couple quietly converse, the tallest building suddenly collapses, startling the characters and upsetting the audience's expectation of a still composition. The demolition is part of a project to destroy the city of Fengjie, China in order to build the world's largest hydro-electric power station, the Three Gorges Dam, a project that has displaced two million people from their homes. As the couple, reuniting after sixteen years, attempt to address their personal history, they are interrupted by the forces of official history; this complex interplay of the personal and the political not only provides director Jia Zhangke with one of his most evocative images, it allows him to provide exact visual expression to the paradoxical forces that define life in modern China, a subject which forms the central line of inquiry in his small, but increasingly impressive body of work.