American moviegoers aren't likely to know this name, Jia Zhang-ke, but he's a New York Film Festival name: his sad, haunting 2002 Ren xiao yao/Unknown Pleasures was an official selection; it's a meandering tale of two lost young men in the wasteland between industry and countryside that is a lot of modern China, and it's extraordinarily original and memorable piece of work. Earlier they showed his 2000 Zhantai/Platform , which reviews the whole period of the Eighties in China and the generation that grew up then through following a traveling theatrical troupe. Recently the festival skipped Jia's 2006 Dong, about a painter, and Sanxia haoren or Still Life, from the same year, though the latter got the Golden Lion at Venice. It was Jia's 2004 Shijie/The World that first got him worldwide exposure, and was made with Chinese government approval.
Wuyong /Useless, which is the name of a new clothing line from chic Chinese designer Ma Ke, doesn't completely live up to its name, but it's a lazy piece of film-making unworthy of a director who once was the most interesting of the younger generation from his country. Without narration, it begins with a Guangdong garment factory where it indulges in some long tracking shots reminiscent of those used for a big Chinese factory in Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes, from last year. Workers are shown picking up lunch. Still environmentally sensible in some important ways, the Chinese shrewdly have workers bring in their own utensils and bowls. Others go to see a factory doctor for ailments.
Then the film shifts to Ma Ke talking about the meaninglessness of mass produced objects and the emotional content of clothes made painstakingly by hand. She has workers at old fashioned looms and uses earth fabrics, even buries them in the dirt to give them the quality called in Arabic baraka, the blessedness that comes from use. That this is just another chic device--that the purchasers of Ma Ke's expensive (and now Paris-represented) couture don't know who made them any more than somebody who goes to Gap or Target does, is not a question that a narration-less documentary is likely to bring up.
Jia should be making fiction, and paying more attention.
My last NYFF screening.
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