Shot in stylish black-and-white, this three-act fable, set in wartime Chongqing, focuses on the indifferent rich, the head clerk on a farm, and some young intruders. Based on a 1943 short ... See full summary »
Passages is a difficult film to sum up easily. For such a quiet movie, there was actually a fair bit happening, not so much in terms of plot, but in how it frames certain questions, how it portrays parts of China.
The story centers around a couple of young students. They are unmarried, but apparently close enough to leave together for another town, looking for lingzhi mushrooms, which they intend to cultivate then sell at a profit. Without giving away too much of the slender plot, most of the movie has to do with their travels to another city, then home again. On the way, they deal with a number of regular people, but also some criminals and an oddball or two. Then when they return to their own town, they have some explaining to do to their families and school. Out of this emerges a number of questions: whether it is better to keep trying to get into university (and presumably a safe career thereafter) after years of unsuccessful attempts, or whether it might be better to strike out on one's own in a risky, but perhaps profitable, venture. I suppose this is a question many young Chinese face now.
Stylistically, 'Passages' is quite similar to the works of Jia Zhangke. It has that same sort of patient camera which is happy to let things happen before it without chasing the action about or indulging in close-ups. The often distant camera allows the viewer to see more than just the two central characters, and in a sense, the changing background is like a third character it is the broader situation the pair of students move through and deal with. The scenery is often bleak, even outside the urban areas, and there is nothing romantic about the Yangtse. Yet, the way it is photographed, it still appeals, by virtue of its unglamourised immediacy.
There is also a fair amount of humour, played in a deadpan fashion. Individual viewers may or may not appreciate it, depending on their tastes (and perhaps culture). The acting is natural and understated, suitable to the theme and style of the movie.
It is mainly to the fans of Jia Zhangke I'd recommend this film, and of course to the curious. Don't expect special effects, impossibly witty dialogue, or a hit soundtrack. It is a different kind of experience entirely, and a journey worth taking.
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