18: Still Life (aka Good People of the Three Gorges)
Director: Jia Zhangke
A risk-taking exploration of a labyrinth of demolitions and life at close quarters
Jia Zhangke began his career with three films set in his backward hometown in north-east China. All three were so rooted in that place you feared for him if he ever tried to leave it.
His first breakaway from Fenyang was a hilarious send-up of an architectural theme park outside Beijing.
The second, Still Life, is less flamboyant but takes more risks.
Its subject is a controversial dam on the Yangtze, displacing millions and submerging old settlements in a landscape famous from paintings and currently portrayed on the 10-yuan note. One of these banknotes turns up in the film when a demolition crew uses the picture of this landscape in a patriotic boast to the miner-protagonist arriving from Jia’s home province.
That’s the scale Jia works on in exposing his vast subject of technological change and social upheaval. There’s a big cast of outlying characters, but close focus on just a few lives.
The miner seems a bumpkin at first, cheated by a circus troupe who give bogus “lessons” in becoming rich and a cycle taxi that takes him to an address now underwater. He hasn’t heard of the Three Gorges Dam and books himself into a hotel that soon has “Demolish” written on it very large.
But he’s on a mission, looking for a daughter he hasn’t seen for years. After all his searching she remains as far away as ever, so he heads north again carrying her battered photo, having threaded the labyrinth of demolitions and got out alive.
Top 50 films for architects
- An Actor’s Revenge — Director: Kon Ichikawa, 1963
- Shoeshine — Director: Vittorio De Sica, 1946
- Pixote — Director: Hector Babenco, 1981
- Man With a Movie Camera — Director: Dziga Vertov, 1929
- The Saragossa Manuscript — Director: Wojciech Has, 1965
- Once Upon a Time in the West — Director: Sergio Leone, 1968
- Late Spring — Director: Yasujiro Ozu, 1949
- Nil by Mouth — Director: Gary Oldman, 1997
- The Iron Gate (Cairo Station) — Director: Youssef Chahine, 1958
- Apocalypse Now — Director: Francis Ford Coppola, 1979
- Spirited Away — Director: Hayao Miyazaki, 2001
- Cry of the City — Director: Robert Siodmak, 1948
- Faust— Director: Murnau, 1926
- The Mill and the Cross — Director: Lech Majewski, 2011
- My Childhood/ My Ain Folk/ My Way Home- Bill Douglas: 1972, 1973, 1978
- Madame de... — Director: Max Ophuls, 1953
- Andrei Rublev – Director: Andrei Tarkovsky 1966
- Still Life (aka Good People of the Three Gorges)– Director: Jia Zhangke 2006