still-life-nov-6thFollowing the Olympics here is an acclaimed docu-drama focusing on the immensely controversial Three Gorges hydro-electric dam project. With a lightness of touch the film tells the stories of two families affected by the flooding of their villages. Coalminer Han seeks his estranged wife and daughter, while Shen, a nurse, is married to the boss of one of the demolition companies. A film of great beauty, Still Life concentrates on the humanitarian impact of the events. (Cert PG)
Dir: Zhang Ke Jia 109 mins China 2006
Preceded by Annual General Meeting at 7.30 p.m.

Programme Notes

Thursday, 6th November 2008

Hong Kong / China 2006 109 minutes

Two people, in parallel plots, come to Fenjie in Sichuan Province. Han is looking for his ex-wife, Missy, in order to see his teenage daughter again, whilst Shen is looking for her husband Huo to tell him she wants a divorce. The ancient and celebrated town is being demolished for the third stage of the Three Gorges Dam. The style of the film is predominantly naturalistic, but a UFO over Fenjie figures in the story.

Tony Rayns (Sight and Sound, Februay 2008) writes that STILL LIFE “rhymes the loss of a very ancient human settlement with the transience and fragility of human relationships in general. …Jia senses a connection between the loaded setting and the vagaries of the heart, making this his most mysterious film – and his most poignant”.

Kevin Lee ( points to the “glorious strangeness of Jia’s aesthetic. It’s worth making this point because the strangeness of the world is itself a central theme of Jia’s films. It’s a strangeness that descends on his characters and impedes their ability to cope with changes which may be as imperceptible as the shifting trends in music and fashion over months and years, or as sudden and calamitous as a factory explosion. …What may elevate Jia Zhangke above his peers is his acute sense of how the local occurrences that appear onscreen are shaped by immense, unfathomable global forces emanating from sources well off-screen. Jia’s importance on the global cinematic stage is inextricably tied to his depiction of contemporay China, if only because Jia’s China reflects global conditions and trends that affect us all.”

Tao Zhao – Shen Hong
Sanming Han – Han Sanming
Directed & Written by Jia Zhangke
Cinematographer – Yu Likwai
Editor – Kong Linwei
Production Designer – Wang Yu


“Illuminating but terribly slow – however, well worth showing. Where else would one get the opportunity to see such a film? This makes the Film Society worth belonging to.”

“Beautiful scenery and music, excellent travelogue, moving portrayal of industrial China (especially the desolation) but I never followed the plot!”

“How to do a drama-documentary. Very impressive photography – we were in these locations just six years ago.”

“An amazing subject – treatment a bit slow in places”

“A real sense of economic and social dislocation”

“Something of a vision of hell!”

“Some interesting shots – tragic if it reflects reality!”

“Somewhat incomprehensible to a Western mind”

“Difficult for us, of course, but (this was) real film poetry.”

“Inscrutable but, if in doubt, give it a clout!”

“Some lovely images – washed out colours – stark symbolism – haunting music”

“Photography not always good but the scenery and settings were.”

“Fascinating as an insight into modern China but unbearably plodding.”

“Fascinating but very abrupt end(ing).”

“I wish the pace could have varied more!”

“So, how about the UFOs? Hard to fit them into the ‘story’ …”

“What was the UFO for? To destroy (the film’s) credibility.”

“Life is one long tightrope walk”

“C is for China – walking the high wire.”

“The script girl wasn’t kept very busy!”

“It looked like they were making it up as they went along.”

“I did not care for this fortune cookie.”

“Totally incomprehensible!”


“A great antidote to the image of China as portrayed at the recent Olympic games. No problems with motorbikes, tea, toffee and no health problems, either, with (all that) cigarette smoking. Is this a foretaste of what might happen if the new reservoir goes ahead?”


A:7, B:18, C:9, D:5, E:0 to give 67%