Two people return to their village in Fengjie to find something they’ve lost. Han Sanming searches for his long-lost wife so that he can see his son one last time. The second one to arrive is Shen Hong who is trying to contact her husband who has been giving her the cold shoulder. All this happens while the countdown is ticking for the deconstruction of the city to give way for the Three Gorges Dam.
Still Life highlights the Chinese struggle to keep up with a rapidly progressing world. The dam serves as a conduit for the Jia Zhangke to push his message. With everyone scrambling to gather their bearings, much is lost in the process. This is reflective of how China demolishes the old in order to make way for the new. This is especially true due to China’s rapid urbanization. This often ends in the detriment of its fellow citizens who have deep roots within their hometown.
The motif in the film would be water. As the film progresses, the water level is constantly on the rise, threatening to take over all that they hold dear. In the midst of the eventual destruction of the city, a secret group that is trying to recover old artifacts before the city becomes the new atlantis. I interpreted this as Jia Zhangke’s own manifestation within the film. As the group tries to save China’s precious history, so is Jia Zhangke trying to preserve the core Chinese values.
An imagery that stuck with me was the little boy puffing away on his cigarette, without any form of parental guidance to tell him not to. The truth of the matter is that no one really cares about him. This is a way to show how even though China is progressing ever forward, the youth is left to fend for themselves. As such the tendency run astray is ever high.
A sad tale which reflects the woes of China. 7/10
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