Still Life

dir. Jia Zhangke

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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A coal miner's search for his long-lost wife and child and a nurse's pursuit of her runaway husband intertwine in a slowly submerging village on the Yangtze River, in this elegiac modern masterpiece by Jia Zhangke.
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, this elegiac masterpiece is the third part of Jia’s "hometown trilogy" set in Fenyang (following Xiao Wu and Platform) and a companion piece to his documentary Dong. Still Life tells the stories of two people as they converge upon the ongoing construction of the massive Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in western China. Jia regular Han Sanming plays himself as a coal miner in search of his long-lost spouse and child, while Jia’s muse Zhao Tao plays a nurse in search of her runaway husband. The film’s intertwining narratives unfold in a series of pensive episodes as the two-thousand-year-old village reverberates to the sound of crashing hammers while flooding ever deeper under water; the locals’ terming of their disappearing village as an "underworld" pointedly recalls the portentous themes of J.G. Ballard. Magnificently shot by master cinematographer Yu Lik-wai, its elegiac tone punctuated by moments of levity and even a dash of magic realism, Still Life devastatingly depicts a landscape and the way of life it supported (so sanctified by the Fifth Generation filmmakers) disappearing in the destructive wake of a rapacious modernity.