The Days

dir. Wang Xiaoshuai

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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One of the first truly independent features ever made on the Mainland, Wang Xiaoshuai's debut feature is a stark portrait of urban anomie and bohemian disaffection set in 1980s Beijing.
A pioneering work of the millennial Sixth Generation, Wang Xiaoshuai’s debut feature was one of the first truly independent productions made in China. Masterfully shot on black-and-white 35mm (despite its shoestring budget), this stark portrait of urban anomie focuses on two bohemian artists — played by real-life avant-garde painters Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong (who would later star in Jia Zhangke’s Dong) — as they drift through the miasma of old Beijing in the 1980s, their relentlessly quotidian lives both contrasting with and implicitly speaking to the massive social, cultural and political tensions simmering just outside the frame. With no extra-diegetic sound apart from the main character’s first-person voiceover monologue and a decidedly cinema verité feel, The Days decisively contrasts with the nostalgic tone and lush visuals of the Fifth Generation in its defiant DIY aesthetic, non-professional leads and resolute present-tenseness. Even more importantly, it points towards the more muted, rigorous kind of formalism of the Sixth Generation works to come: Wang’s studied compositions and austere, precise depictions of the artists’ process are as painterly as his subject Liu’s paintings are cinematic.