BAPFF review: Mountains May Depart (2015)

“Go west!” the Pet Shop Boys sing in the opening scene of Mountains May Depart. The year is 1999 – the iron fist rule that China became known for in the 20th century is over, and the country is modernising rapidly, its citizens indeed following the siren call to leave home and embrace the new ways of life. Jia Zhangke’s film, a three act split between China in 1999 and 2014 and Australia in 2025, is an easily identifiable double narrative. The film charts the rise of a more global China, where its citizens consequently lose their connection to the motherland in and their families in the same breath. The less privileged and slow-to-adapt are left behind in the old ways, forgotten with the passage of time. But those in the new world aren’t exactly better off – they’re unfulfilled, and searching for some sort of maternal connection to replace the sense of home they’ve lost. The photography moves from the richly coloured DV format and 4:3 aspect ratio of home movies in the vibrant first act, to bleaker colouring and 2.35:1 in the final acts sparser frames, the space of the new world a lonely place. It’s by no means a startling observation about the film, its laid so plainly, and is the subject of a gamble of a third act, where one character indeed does search for that. Despite that deviation though, it’s nevertheless a beautifully realised work for the remainder of its runtime. The performances, particularly from Zhao Tao, are occasionally funny, deeply felt portraits of people struggling to adapt to the modern world, effortlessly move through the time periods. The result is both expansive and personal.

Rating: 3.5/5

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