Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

ūüôā

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of¬†na√Įvet√© ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet ūüôā

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sert√£o.

But¬†Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang¬†is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first: ¬†he’s a film director.

And second: ¬†he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story… ¬†Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man. ¬†He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves. ¬†And it was this Indian film shown in China. ¬†And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang… ¬†His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in¬†Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger. ¬†No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!” ¬†Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on¬†Dereliction of Duty¬†ūüôā

-PD

Die Another Day [2002)

CGI, like fake boobs, does not age well.¬† But let us back up to all of the ridiculous indoctrination which precedes the failed geekery of late in the film.¬† This James Bond movie has many reeducation moments, but they emanate not from the North Korean characters but rather the film’s shadow auteurs.¬† Let me demonstrate.

“North Korea bad.¬† England good.¬† England also known U.K.¬† [ooga booga]¬† America friend U.K.¬† North Korea torture.¬† America and U.K. not torture.¬† [ooga-booga]”

Yes, dear friends…Hollywood considers you a bunch of fucking chimps.¬† And when it comes to films with a lot of heavy weaponry, you can bet the transnational military-industrial complex had a large role to play in the production.

North Korea hacked¬†Sony?¬† Gimme a fucking break!¬† That was a self-inflicted publicity stunt.¬† The only problem is the collusion of intelligence services which are always tasked with finding the next suitable enemy.¬† The CIA, MI6, NSA, and every other alphabet agency in the Anglo-American “five eyes” network have become nothing more than glorified traffic cops…fulfilling their ticket quotas.

Why will the new world order fail?¬† Because they do not employ the best artists.¬† Sure, there are forgery artists on staff of these intel agencies, but not the artists needed to fool the world.¬† There are no Charlie Chaplins, no Orson Welles, no Pablo Picassos, no Igor Stravinskys…¬† And so the global elite circuitously churn out these propaganda films which age as fast as Cheez Whiz or Silly String. They count on audiences being stupid…both uneducated and willfully stupid (in combination).

Lee Tamahori actually does a worse job directing than Michael Apted did in the last half of the previous Bond film, though sadly the mise-en-scène is almost indistinguishable.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (yay! free speech), let’s talk about what is salvageable.¬† Zao.¬† Diamond acne.¬† That’s pretty good.

Torture in the opening credits.¬† Very innovative (and true to the spirit of the first Bond novel Casino Royale).¬† Bond’s dereliction of duty (if it can be called that) echoes the wonderful message of License To Kill (1989), yet what follows is mostly hackneyed storytelling.

Halle Berry’s emergence from the ocean like the reincarnation of Ursula Andress circa 1962 seems to bode well, but it is simply a rare moment of excellence in a sea of shite.

Further indoctrination follows in that Berry is supposedly an NSA agent.¬† In all my years reading about the NSA (from James Bamford to Wayne Madsen), never have I encountered even a hint of the kind of agent she is purported to be.¬† This leads me to believe that the whole purpose was to make No Such Agency seem cool and acceptable knowing that the PATRIOT Act was now letting them eavesdrop the shit out of your lives.¬† They knew such a steamroller approach would eventually result in public backlash.¬† And it did.¬† NSA agent…¬† Gimme a fucking break…

And then of course there’s the nice little mention of Sierra Leone.¬† We’d be revisiting that country as “liberators” from a biowarfare agent called ebola before too long.

Yes, I know, dear reader:¬† these sound like the thoughts of a raving lunatic.¬† I urge you to investigate…really investigate.¬† Investigate to the point you are scared…and then investigate some more.¬† Can you afford it?¬† We dispossessed of the earth have nothing to lose.

I could talk about Madonna’s bad acting.¬† Actually, I like Madonna.¬† It’s just horrible fucking directing.¬† To the director’s credit, the scene seems pressured from above…like a goddamned product placement.

Graves ice palace looks like a cross between the Sydney Opera House and a frozen McDonald’s.¬† What a pathetic piece of set design.

Conversely, kudos to the thinkers behind the hypersonic wedding ring.

But these fucking car chases…it’s like Top Gear.¬† What a load of uncinematic crap!

It’s a pity Rosamund Pike had such a bollocks role.

This is just atrocious filmmaking.

-PD