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Jia Zhangke’s
STILL LIFE

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(2006) Jia Zhangke’s STILL LIFE, winner of the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, is a portrait of those left behind by progress, blending documentary and fiction in the style of Jia’s earlier works (PlatformUnknown PleasuresThe World). Still Life centers on the town of Fengjie and its residents, whose lives are upended by the Chinese government’s real-life construction of the Three Gorges Dam (which remains the world’s largest dam). Fengjie’s ancient town, dating back 2,000 years, has been torn down and submerged forever, forcing old families to relocate. Still Life follows Sanming, a miner in search of his ex-wife, and Shen Hong, a nurse looking for her husband. In the end, they have to decide what’s worth salvaging in their lives and what they need to let go of. 108 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

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Reviews

“…(Jia’s) work exists on a continuum with the modernist masters, among other influences, but he is very much an artist of his own specific time and place. His canvas is China, where, as the indelible image of a tightrope walker in STILL LIFE suggests, people navigate the fine line between heaven and earth.”
– Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“Jia is a great director, and much of Still Life's power comes from the way he depicts his characters moving through the landscape... the movie is incredibly beautiful. Jia's eye for composition recalls Antonioni in its rigor and poetry, but he isn't after mere pictorial splendor. Like all of Jia's movies, Still Life is both a compassionate portrait of ordinary people scrambling to survive warp-speed change, and a record of cultural memory.”
– John Powers, NPR/Fresh Air

“Exhilarating, expertly choreographed and a movie to change one's view of both cinema and life.”
– John Anderson, Newsday

“STILL LIFE is an extremely beautiful movie: the river and the green mountains on both sides of it extend into the distance in majestic panoply; gray clouds hang over the scene like painted backdrops. Jia, working with the cinematographer Yu Likwai, is incapable of an ugly or a nonresonant image: the air is moist and palpable, and even the thick, rusted pipes of abandoned factories seem to breathe.”
– David Denby, The New Yorker