Mountains May Depart

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Jia Zhangke

Starring

Liang Jin Dong Zhang Yi Zhao Tao

Anticipation.

Everything this director makes should be considered essential viewing.

Enjoyment.

Some light scuffs at the edges, but delivers a major emotional wallop.

In Retrospect.

Zhao Tao proves that she’s one of the greatest living screen actors.

Jia Zhangke’s ambitious, multi-stranded romantic epic features a stunning central turn from Zhao Tao.

It’s enervating to chart the progress of Chinese director Jia Zhangke. He has moved away from stark, politically corrosive inquiries into economic displacement and the shifting sands of the Chinese landscape, to channel similar themes into more, shall we say, broadly approachable packages. Mountains May Depart is an impressive triptych feature which combines a florid family melodrama with themes of tradition, technology, pride and rampant globalisation.

The film opens in gala fashion, as Jia muse Zhao Tao – delivering an astonishing performance – dances to the Pet Shop Boys’ version of ‘Go West’ in the year 1999. Initially set in the mining town of Fengyang, the film carefully sets up a fractious love triangle between shop clerk Tao, a wheeler-dealer who wants to take her away from the squalor, Jinsheng (Zhang Yi), and a self-hating working class labourer, Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong), who sees her as his romantic equal.

The opening chapter charts the emotional push and pull between the characters while keeping one eye closely on the rotten system that drives these people to make the decisions they do. The film soon skips forward to 2014, and then later, to a futuristic rendering of Australia in 2025 which features a mighty fine broadside aimed at Google Translate. As is customary for Jia, any scintilla of initial hope is crushed and then crushed again, as his characters are put through the ringer in the name of a withering cultural critique.

Even considering the few moments that don’t quite gel (the 2025 segment occasionally feels a little half-cocked), it’s a unique and eccentric achievement from one of the most consistently challenging, exciting and angry filmmakers currently on the circuit. It’s a shame, then, that UK audiences have had to wait two years for it, as it premiered in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Published 14 Dec 2017

Tags: Chinese Cinema Jia Zhangke

Anticipation.

Everything this director makes should be considered essential viewing.

Enjoyment.

Some light scuffs at the edges, but delivers a major emotional wallop.

In Retrospect.

Zhao Tao proves that she’s one of the greatest living screen actors.

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