A town in Fengjie county is gradually being demolished and flooded to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. A man and woman visit the town to locate their estranged spouses, and become witness to the societal changes.
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Against the backdrop of the mammoth Three Gorges Dam engineering project in the declining city of Fengjie, a poor mine worker from Shanxi, Sanming, arrives in the dilapidated town in the hope of finding his unknown daughter and his ex-wife, Missy Ma, who left him nearly 16 years ago. But in the meantime, a nurse from Taiyuan, Shen Hong, also comes to Fengjie in search of her husband who's been missing for almost two years. Though Shen and Sanming are two perfect strangers, their parallel quests for their beloved missing ones signify the urgency to retrieve what lies hidden in the past, as man is dwarfed by an ever-changing landscape which threatens to bury one's memories deep under water. Written by
Ancient towns have been submerged along the Yangtse River in China as part of the Three Gorges Dam project. Jia Zhang-Ke has created a contemplative and compassionate human drama set in the region, depicting two separate protagonists attempting to locate missing ones who lived in areas now underwater.
I'm not a great fan of high definition digital video photography, but this sublime film takes advantage of the benefits of the technology while avoiding most of the pitfalls. I was seriously sleep-deprived while watching the film and never got close to nodding off, even though there are very long takes where little seems to happen. Yet in takes, there are many passing details, the beautiful movements of camera taking in rich and authentic details of people, situations, implements, household paraphernalia and gorgeous sweeping vistas. The latter appeared to be enhanced using filters, which seemed to compensate for the loss of aesthetics that comes from not shooting on 35mm film. This film was visually beautiful, though that really only served what was an extremely well-made film.
As a lover of world cinema, I found the attention to detail fascinating. The director seemed to be sharing the idiosyncrasies of the local culture, customs and demeanour with a real sense of compassion and humanitarianism. I found it poetic, uplifting and moving. Paraphrasing Melbourne International Film Festival executive director Richard Moore's in introduction by quoting the director (who was in attendance as a guest of the festival): "I originally wanted to make films that would change the world... I now realise this is not possible, and I just wish to make films that make people sigh." It worked on me.
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