Jia Zhang-ke’s Still life is a bittersweet fable about loss and progress. Sanming has come to the Three Gorges to look for his wife and daughter who were separated from him sixteen years previously. New to the city and having only an address written on the inside of an old tobacco packet to guide him, he finds that the street that was looking for has already been sunk to make way for the new dam. Shen Hong, has also to come to Three Gorges to look for someone, her husband, who she has not been able to contact in two years. As the two-thousand year old town of Fenjie is dismantled and its inhabitants displaced there is a profound sense of loss and resignation. The ‘good people of the three gorges’ will have to find a way to adjust to their government’s demand for modernisation.
Zhang-ke’s film is spare but affecting. Cities must fall so a country can rise, but what about the effect on the ordinary people. A paean to the resilience of the working man, this is a film about a country in flux, escaping from one time into another. It’s sad, but inevitable and the people will have to find their own ways of coping with it