|"Jia Zhangke: A Guy From Fenyang" is a documentary about Chinese film director Jia Zhangke (R) shown during this year's ongoing London Film Festival that provides the cultural and sociopolitical background necessary to understand Jia's films.|
"Jia Zhangke: A Guy From Fenyang" is a documentary about Chinese film director Jia Zhangke shown during this year's ongoing London Film Festival that provides the cultural and sociopolitical background necessary to understand Jia's films.
Renowned Brazilian director Walter Salles has made an intimate and moving documentary about Jia Zhangke, where we learn equal amounts about the man himself, his films and China. Salles' documentary serves as the perfect primer to Jia Zhangke and his films.
Salles is clearly in awe of Jia's particular brand of humanistic cinema, but never in a cloying way. Much of the documentary features Jia's reminiscences and a tour of sorts of Jia's old hometown and stomping ground of Fenyang in Shanxi Province. This is interspersed with carefully selected scenes from his early international breakthrough hits "Xiao Wu" and "Platform," as well as later films which move beyond the boundaries of Shanxi like "The World" and "Still Life."
Salles starts off by filming Jia taking us around many different areas of Fenyang, some of which have completely changed since Jia filmed there, change partly precipitated by the uncontrollable effects of globalization, as well as rapid economic development. An example of these changes is shown when Jia, with his actor friend Wang Hongwei, walk down a street that they filmed in 'Xiao Wu' and they ask each other where all the Karaoke joints have disappeared to. They have been replaced by deserted buildings.
The doc also does a great job of showing how Jia's personal experiences influence and shape his films. During the walk around his hometown, he climbs up a large rampart and tells Salles that as a child his father took him to climb up this same rampart, and Jia remembers seeing a tear drop down his father's face as he looked out into the horizon. Jia says he didn't understand this at the time, but later realized it was because the outside world is so great and full of potential, but his father never got to experience it. The doc then shows a moving scene from 'Platform', set in Fenyang between 1979-1989, in which a bunch of kids all excitedly run after a passing train and watch it depart into the distance into some undiscovered place - a place they will likely never go.
Pop music is also a central component and structural device in Jia's cinema and Jia states that this is due to China's past predilection of the group mentality superseding individual desire. Jia explains that the lyrics in pop songs talked of individual love that was something hugely attractive to young people in China growing up in the eighties. Again, this reminiscence is cut to a clip from 'Platform' of Jia Zhangke's muse, and now wife, Zhao Tao silently dancing in a deserted office to a love song sometime in the eighties - a moment tinged with a sad melancholy since once the song finishes, this dream like aura permeating the air will vanish.
This documentary does a great job of showing how everything in Jia's films comes from his personal experiences and thoughts about China and the world, and their rapidly changing nature. He captures things before they are gone forever, and the changes taking place, cementing his place as one of the grand historians of modern China. The documentary's generous amount of clips from Jia's films, perfectly placed in relation to what Jia is speaking about, are likely to convert more people to Jia's cinema and make them want to seek his films out.