You're a nostalgist.
We can't forget who we are.
You know... We're not suited for this modern world. The reason is, we're too nostalgic.
Who are you imitating?
Chow Yun-Fat! Brother Fat.
I hope I can count on you.
The exchange above is one of my favorite moments in Still Life. There is a tenderness and a sense of humor that permeates all of the sadness in this minimalist epic. Epic, not in its length, but in its treatment of an atrocity.
Still Life is my favorite science fiction film from last year.
Here's the plot.
An alien culture has conquered contemporary China from within and has begun a program of change that will destroy all of the traditional ties that bind. At the heart of this destructive plan is the construction of a large dam that will transform the natural landscape, creating a large source of electrical power while simultaneously achieving the desired end of eradicating Chinese heritage.
The chaos of this planetary engineering is the background for a more intimate story of two separate people, both of whom have lost a spouse, for different reasons, and have come to a small Chinese county of Fengjie. The two stories never converge, but they overlap and each adds a bit more detail and nuance to the effect of the other. Time is short, though, because Fengjie, a county with 2,000 years of culture and tradition behind it, is being demolished and will soon be underwater.
Okay, Still Life isn't science fiction. But, it sure feels like it. Really, it's science fact. Most of the film is shot in a documentary style during the actual period of relocation and dissolution, chronicling Fengjie's destruction as it was being prepared to be sacrificed to the Three Gorges Dam.
The most beautiful image, though, is probably the one of a strange tower in the background of an apartment, suddenly blasting off from the ground like a NASA spaceship, an alien artifact leaving the zone that it had previously occupied. In an interview included on the DVD, Jia Zhangke acknowledges that this was the intended effect. The tower had been a strange vain government project that was abandoned. A true alien artifact set up in an ancient village. It's only fitting that it flies away.
I loved Still Life. When I was finished with it, I started raving that it was the best film of 2008 and that I had been wrong about all others. It may not be, and I'm sure I'll revise my opinion, but the truth remains that it feels good to see something magical and come away enthusiastic about a piece of art.