24 City

24 City

24 City (2008, Director: Jia Zhang-ke): Despite my best inten­tions, I have yet to see a film from the man some crit­ics are now cheekily refer­ring to as “Jay-Z.” Known for films like The World (2004), Still Life (2006) and Useless (2007), Jia explores the seams between China’s ancient tra­di­tions and the dizzy­ing pace of mod­ern life in the world’s most pop­u­lous nation. In this, his latest film, he mixes doc­u­ment­ary film­mak­ing with fic­tional storytelling to weave together a lar­ger nar­rat­ive involving the work­ers of a ven­er­able mil­it­ary fact­ory which is now being turned into lux­ury con­dos in the south­west­ern city of Changdu.

Since this was my first expos­ure to Jia’s work, I can’t say for cer­tain that it’s rep­res­ent­at­ive of his style, but I sure hope so. Essentially the film is a series of mono­logues framed in long or mid shots inter­spersed with stately pans over the fact­ory build­ings. His patient cam­era demands that we pay atten­tion to what we’re look­ing at. While some of the fic­tional stor­ies are slightly more melo­dra­matic, all of the work­ers’ recol­lec­tions are mov­ing. Combined with the rev­er­en­tial cam­er­a­work, Jia makes a poignant state­ment about the dig­nity of work. 24 City is an elegy for a way of life many in China are eager to leave behind, but in many ways it’s simply about the passing of time and about the way indi­vidu­als have little con­trol over it. Even though their work seemed crush­ing in its mono­tony, sin­is­ter in its pur­pose and at times over­whelm­ing in the demands it placed on the work­ers’ lives, all of them seem to miss it. Or rather, they miss the small tra­gedies and romances that flour­ished and then faded, along with their youth, just like the fact­ory itself. Lovely stuff.



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