Sunday, February 26, 2012

Far East Existential

To Live
1994.  125 minutes. China. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Watchdate: 9/21/2011.
In To Live, Zhang Yimou uses the magic incantations of puppetry intermingled with the proletarian instinct for survival to enchant and animate a story built from layers of dramatic irony and historical circumstance. The scenes featuring shadow puppetry are imbued with a lively, raucous joy. Their imagery is mysterious and sensitive and there’s a real sense of melancholy when the puppets are threatened (and finally lost) during the Cultural Revolution.

Other striking moments for me included the abandoned battlefield that Fugui and Chungsheng wake up to after the Nationalist retreat followed by that terrific shot where the Communist army literally engulfs them. I would also single out those shots when Fugui’s daughter looks at herself in the mirror wearing Maoist garb and ponytails, seeing herself as a potential wife with this completely different sense of beauty.

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