PLATFORM by jia zhangke

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yesterday i saw PLATFORM. which, with PICKPOCKET, make up the stunning first two thirds of the “hometown trilogy” by jia zhangke. for some reason, maybe because he’s found relatively secure funding in his latest films (and not had to work outside china’s constrained studio system), these first two are, for me, much richer than his more recent work. both star the nerdy, nebbish beauty of wang hongwei–who plays an odd, shangxi-province version of bizarro woody allen. i think i could watch wang hongwei smoke and eat noodles for hours.

like his recent films, PLATFORM and PICKPOCKET detail china’s transformation from a closed society of state-run industry into its current brand of particular capitalism.  for the sixth generation this change has resulted in a stunning slowmotion whiplash. jia zhangke was actually present at this particular screening, which took place because of a MOMA retrospective. at the Q&A after the screening someone asked the director whether he thought of himself more akin to the blockbuster and arguably escapist films of zhang yimou or the more openly critical, political-protest films of li yang. jia zhangke gave an interesting reply, saying he didn’t necessarily agree with such dichotomous labels, that reality was larger than such simple opposites. i asked a poet friend — who was also in attendance and who had himself left china shortly after ’89 tiananmen — whether he thought jia’s response was more true or more politically coy — and my friend seemed to think it was a sincere answer.

in any case, i spent today thinking a great deal about PLATFORM’s last scene. i don’t think it will give anything away to say it’s a strange, mostly static composition. i’d seen PICKPOCKET a while back (which also has a terrific ending) and while i think it’s easy to say PICKPOCKET’s the better film, i was taken with how beautiful PLATFORM’s story was, a love story really, about two couples in a theater troupe through the 1980s. this last scene is a mysterious one, which doesn’t add particularly to your factual knowledge of the characters, but does have a very strange magic in its blocking and in its actions that burns in the brain (at least in mine) a permanent portrait of this non-couple and non-family.

the film’s precise depiction of the changing material conditions of the youth of shanxi province make for me a kind of mind-shattering comparison with the material state of the west in the 80s… definitely one to try.

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[somewhat relatedly, tonight — through tragic happenstance — i was forced to watch the very end of SEPTEMBER ISSUE — a documentary about vogue magazine. it made me ill. maybe i’m a fool, but to see those two movies back to back made me speak into the apartment air, involuntarily: we live in an insane world where the ones in power are insane people who do insane things.]

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profile and interview with jia zhangke by stephen teo at senses of cinema:

ST: Why do you want to return to that stage of primevalism? Cinema has developed for a hundred years.

JZ: Because after a hundred years, the human life force in cinema is becoming less and less. The cinema is subjected more and more to industrial standards. I think cinema should contain human flavour and the flavour of the auteur. That’s why I didn’t want something easy and smooth. I want a movie that has an accent. For example, I can’t speak standard English, I have a Chinese accent. The cinema is the same. I have my own Jia Zhangke accent. I may be too garrulous, or too vague. My camera may be shaky or it jerks too much but that’s the emotion I feel on the set. That’s the kind of movie I want to make. Pouring your life force into the movie, not conforming to a cold industrial standard. That’s why I rejected the use of certain supplementary film techniques such as steadicam or even the track – though I used a bit of that in Platform. I don’t want my cameramen to use these supplementary techniques. Because I want my camera to come into direct contact with the subject.

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JZ: I use a lot of long shots. If the audience can see things in there, that’s good, if they can’t, so be it. I don’t want to impose too many things onto the audience… I don’t want to impose a message onto the audience. I want to give them a mood and within that mood, you can see things that you want, or you can’t see things. My films are rather challenging for the audience. They are not very clearly stated to the extent where the audience can see clearly the objects they want to see – this pen or this watch. If they don’t notice it, they don’t notice it. It’s not that I am being indifferent. Through all these, I am imparting a director’s attitude, how he sees the world and the cinema. What I mean to say is that it’s only an attitude because you can never be absolutely objective. When you need somebody to look at something, it’s no longer objective. There is no absolute objectivity, there is attitude, and through this attitude, there is an ideal.


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