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Directed by Jia Zhang-ke

* Limited tickets available.

Official Selection, 2020 Berlin International Film Festival

Jia Zhang-ke’s latest film is presumably a documentary about modern China’s literary greats. But, as in his previous documentary I Wish I Knew, Jia’s view on storied Chinese institutions never takes the well-trodden path, instead veering in from the side and back. For one, his interviews with famed authors Jia Pingwa, Yu Hua, and Liang Hong, or the memories of rural writer Ma Feng, are so rarely about writing. Rather, they focus–or rather muse–on their embeddedness in the ordinary crests and dips in a turbulent recent history. The film’s chapter titles aren’t signposts of literary achievement, but placards for the mundane: eating, love, disease, returning home.

And as in his most acclaimed works such as Still Life and The World, Jia and his regular cinematographer Yu Lik-wai reserve moments for everyday people, elegantly lensed in soft tracking shots. Jia is a master of blending fact and fiction, and here he juxtaposes literary histories with the lived modern city, and blurs celluloid images from his own past films with contemporary tourists taking selfies. It’s always too late for nostalgia in Jia’s films, even as he allows authors to opine about their rural roots. Instead, the silent unflappability of the ordinary Shanxi resident represents a history drifting forward like a ship at sea. Jia’s treatise on literature is a tribute to the ships’ captains, forging their own way around the literary giants before them and through the landscapes and faces that enliven their work.

–Brian Hu