Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Blue Kite

Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993, 140m, China, "Lan Feng Zheng"

Mao died in 1976. Between his assumption of power in 1949 and his death is a strange period in which a series of experiments in social engineering were carried out  at the cost of great suffering to ordinary people. This film narrates the experience of a single family caught in this tempestuous era.

The narrator is the boy Tietou and the movie covers the first ten years of his life, which falls in this period and we catch glimpses of the Great Leap Forward; the Anti-Rightist witch hunts; the organised and officially blessed mobs of youth whose rampages were the Cultural Revolution. The drama narrates the fortunes of the family comprising the boy's mother, the beautiful and plucky Chujuan; the three husbands she loses one after the other; her sister, a typical thoroughly brain washed, alternately politically awakened product of the period; her two brothers; and the mother, an anachronistic granny bewildered by events, as indeed are the best of them.

The reach of the party is pervasive and politics cuts sharply into private lives, often creating fissures within the family. We see the culture of mutual denunciation just as the boy's biological father is exiled to a work camp after he is reported against by a close friend. Teachers are publicly denounced and their heads shaved. His mother and third father are belabored by a mob after a poster campaign against them. It has  resemblance to pre-war Germany in that people are compelled, at the point of the gun, so to say, to think in a particular way. It is a lesson in the power of distorted ideologies to wreak havoc and chaos.

Yet the scourge of Mao's reign was too short to succeed in obliterating traditional ways and we see normal humanity huddling together behind domestic walls and biding their time.

The film rips off the curtain behind which the reality of this enigmatic period is hidden. The street scenes with children at play and the details of life are realistically caught.The background score is non-existent but for brief subdued eruptions at climactic moments. A room with a bookshelf is a recurring marker, as though symbolizing the element of stability in the human heart which tempests cannot shake. Another repeated motif is a brilliant eruption of fireworks, punctuating both joy and tragedy, like the inherent energy and resilience of life.


Jack L said...

Sounds excellent, I'll be sure to check it out.

Is this directed by the same director as The Horse Thief ?, because I enjoyed that film a lot.

S. M. Rana said...

Yes it is, I read your comment on Nathanael's blog.

Though it's a somewhat tougher watch, it gives you a trustworthy picture of that particular slice of history, which has so many lessons in the positive as well as negative sense.

Jack L said...

I see, well I'll definitely be seeing this one then...
Are there any others by the same director that you would recommend, or any other Chinese films in general for I am not very familiar with Chinese film apart from the usual Hong Kong cinema.

S. M. Rana said...

These are the only ones I have seen. I have seen just three other Chinese films:"City of Life and Death", and "Last Train Home". Another is "Rape of Nanking". "Last Train Home" is specially recommendable as a vivid picture of contemporary China. "The Last Emperor" which I saw much earlier is another commendable film about pre-revolution China.

Jack L said...

OK, thanks fr those recommendations, I'll be sure too check them out!

Nathanael Hood said...

Jack L:

If you want some other great Chinese directors, look up Zhang Yimou. His early work includes some of the greatest Chinese films ever made. In particular, watch:

Red Sorghum
Ju Dou
Raise the Red Lantern
To Live

Rana: Excellent review. I would be intimidated to write one after Ebert's Great Movie Review.

Jack L said...

Ok Nathanael Thanks for the recommendations, I'll check them out when I have time.

I've actually managed to find the film you mentioned on my blog, Last Year at Marienbad and I've just watched it, it was very strange and quite unique but I did have a few problems with it, thanks for recommending it though and i'll definitely read your review of it when you post it...

S. M. Rana said...

One is not in competition with Ebert and Co. It is a joy and a challenge to grope for words to express one's individual and unique reaction to the film. I usually read the reviews of Ebert and NY times after writing my own, and comparing how these professionals have done such a better literary job.

Between words and images, my preference is words, but movies convey information more time effectively, but are less communicable.

I hesitate to call my reviews reviews, because I make no attempt to be comprehensive, and it's just the pleasure of recording one's immediate reaction briefly.

If one skips what the Ebert has reviewed, most of the meat is gone, unless one specialises in one's he has missed. Your blog has introduced me to some precious films, like "The Horse Thief", "A Page of Madness" and "Death" by "Hanging". Subsequently I saw "The Realm of the Senses" which was too disturbing, but an authentic picture of the power of our instincts and urges. I have lined up "Diary of a Shinjuku Thief", "Empire of Senses" and the "Cow", lattermost of which is first after I come back from Delhi.

Your complement is, as usual, generous indeed. Many thanks.

kaist455 said...

I have always wanted to watch this movie, after finding the movie in Ebert's the great movie list. Thanks for your review - I really have to get the chance to watch this movie as soon as possible.

S M Rana said...

This film, along with Last Train Home (which I believe you have seen) are unmissable. After all China is a mutual neighbor for both of us.

litdreamer said...

Really want to see this film. Also the earlier Zhang Yimou films that Nathanael mentioned.