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

Night on Earth [1991)

I’ve run out of witticisms.

Snappy beginnings.

Which is a shame.  Because I really want you to know about this film.

If you don’t already.

This is called quantum writing.

It is the sentence fragment equivalent of liberal ellipses.

So tired.

The cities.

Los Angeles.

It is the first episode.  Vignettes.

Seemed like a throwaway scene years ago.

Now.  So prescient.  Then.

So pertinent.  Germane.

She’s not really interested in becoming a movie star.

People selling kidneys to get a real casting agent and she’s not interested…

Beautiful.

New York.

Lost in the world.

Pulling immigrants with the magnetism of illustrious decades.

East Germany.  Dresden.  Near Czechoslovakia.  1991.

My neighborhood.  When I can pause for a moment and appreciate the diversity.

America.  Amer-ica.

Paris.

Francophone magnet.

Another scene which ages well.

When I saw this I hadn’t been to France.

Hadn’t been to New York or L.A.

And you appreciate more.¬† When you’ve been.

The loving portrayal.  The in-between shots.

Maybe it’s the garbage can at Pink’s Hot Dogs.

A green trash bag.  Liner.  Someone sweeping up.

We’re blind to so many details.

And so Jim Jarmusch went and put ’em in a film.

They’re there.

The details.

Tom Waits soundtracking like Charles Ives with an accordion.

Why?

Why is it sad?

It should be funny.  And sad.

It depends.

It depends on your life.

If you’ve ever had a brush with the entertainment industry, then that first scene might get you.

Might punch you right in the gut.

Not interested.

And the point is that as one girl throws it all away (from a perspective) a bloke on the east coast is just trying to get a cab.

Look.

I’ve got money.

It’s winter.

And home is Brooklyn.

It’s painful cold.

And as one family is dysfunctional in its uniquely Tolstoyvian way, another has no family at all.

None.

None left.

It was too cold to shave today.

Save the money.

Money is not important to me.¬† I’m a clown.¬† I just need the money.¬† But it’s not important to me.

And there’s your artist.

A mechanic works the art of grease.

A clown suffers in the tumult.

Please.  Come in.  Welcome to my taxi.  It is very important to me.

Long night.  On Earth.

You hear about Africa every year.  Annually.  On average.

A famine.  A plague.  An outstanding war.  Out standing in the rain.

We never know just how it feels to live in Nigeria.

It is furthest from our thoughts.

And then we are reminded.  That Africa exists.

The continent.  Does not exert itself.

Comes down to capital.  LLC.  Land labor capital.

To LKM.  labor Kapital material.

A lot has changed since Adam Smith.

Land disappeared.

And what makes the U.S. unique compared to Hong Kong or Tokyo?  Land.

Room to sprawl.  Endlessly.

But I digress.  As a matter of course.

In the course of one speck of matter (Earth) running rings around the Sun.

Our sun.  Not up yet.

The hour of the wolf.

Brings us to Rome.  Ingmar not Ingrid.

It is comic blast #2.

We survived the sadness with laughter.  In New York.

And now we book a room at the Hotel Genius.  [Hotel Imbecile was full-up.]

Thank God for Charlie Parker!

I confess.

I was looking forward to this humor for days.  I knew the ending.

But I didn’t know my own age.¬† In the mirror of cinema.

But, dear friends, all good things must end (and bad things must start).

“They say the darkest hour/Is right before the dawn.”

That’s the hour of the wolf.

And instead of Max von Sydow we get Matti Pellonpää.

With his Grinderman mustache.

Walrus.  Circles the statue.  In front of parliament?

Helsinki.  Like a sinkhole.  Cold.  Hell sinky.

It is the end of the earth.  And I only have my memories of being drunk in Kiruna.  Sweden.  Never made it further east.

And for a moment he just sits behind the wheel and stares off into space.

After it’s all over.¬† As if he can see the ice-trails of orbits.

We travel the spaceways.

Every humble step of our lives.

From bakery to grain field.

But mostly streets.

Taxis.  The poetry of snaking asphalt.

Sing the songs of the pavement.

Every passenger a sad story.

Every driver a priest.

-PD