The impact of the decline of heavy industry on workers and their families in the Tiexi district of Shenyang, China, at the turn of the 21st century, documented unflinchingly by a fly-on-the-wall camera.
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Director Portabello takes silent footage from the filming of Jess Franco's fourth-rate Dracula film and makes a multi-leveled masterpiece. The striking sound track consists of drills, scrapes, and finally, Christopher Lee reading the end of the Stoker novel. The electric buzzing is occasionally interrupted by snatches of pop songs and long periods of silence, which adds to mystery as tech and cameramen slide into view behind the stony, mute actors. Is this the imposed silence of awful Franco years? Portabello is Catalan, and the Catalan tongue was forbidden under the fascist regime. No speaking of Guernica, of the war, no criticism or free press. The master narrative of the appalling Franco dictatorship is interrupted by the disjointed tale of Portabello's paste-board castle and sleepwalking horror tropes. To re-edit the banal film (Franco's) and the evil, banal regime (Franco's) so that all its artifice may be displayed in the clear light (under the visible lights of the set). Fashionable girls laugh over a coffin holding a dead man, men walk through forests arranging cobwebs, Lee's imposing angular figure stares ahead, all granite. Deaf, too: they can't hear the flies. Lee and Portabello also made the equally sublime Umbracle, a similar tale of horror haunted by taxidermy, secret police, and Lee singing a song in French. This film shows that the continuum of the Gothic is still a potent vessel for art and politics. Portabello is a genius.
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