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Unknown Pleasures: The Films of Jia Zhangke

September 12, 2008 - October 17, 2008

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Platform, October 15

“At their most powerful, Jia’s films are crystal-clear demonstrations of how macro forces register on a micro level—or, to be precise, how the policy shifts of the Chinese government are felt by individuals.”—Dennis Lim, L.A. Times

Viewers wishing to understand China’s vast changes during the last decade, and those seeking arguably the most important, critically acclaimed director of our era, should start in one place: the films of Jia Zhangke. Born (in 1970) and raised in the dusty mining town of Fenyang, Shanxi Province (a region that he returns to in nearly all of his work), Jia studied painting and literature before gaining admission to the Beijing Film Academy. His feature debut Xiao Wu earned the prestigious Dragons and Tigers prize at the 1997 Vancouver Film Festival, starting a cascade of critical praise and awards that recently included Venice’s Golden Lion (for Still Life, 2007). Combining the assured observational naturalism of Bresson (he cites A Man Escaped as a prime influence) with the contemplative rhythms of Hou Hsiao-hsien (another acknowledged inspiration), Jia’s films depict a China that seems to be reinventing itself every other year—a country moving from communism to (hyper)capitalism, a rural world slowly entering the urban age, an industrialized cityscape turning to neon bars and Internet cafes, and an ancient, enclosed society looking to join the global market. His heroes and heroines are those left behind in the transition, too unconnected or not ruthless enough to make the jump: disaffected youth, small-time crooks, artists, prostitutes, and the elderly. Jia’s visual and even sonic aesthetics are as consistent as his themes, thanks to frequent collaborators cinematographer Yu Likwai (himself a director as well) and the Taiwanese composer Lim Giong. For the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, “Jia is one of the most original filmmakers working today, creating movies about a country that seems like a sequel.”

This series is presented in conjunction with the BAM exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection.

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Friday, September 12, 2008
6:30 p.m. Still Life
The controversial Three Gorges Dam project frames two stories in Jia’s examination of a city under (de)construction. Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival. Repeated on October 17.

Friday, September 12, 2008
8:45 p.m. Dong
Jia follows artist Liu Xiaodong as he paints the yang (construction workers in China) and yin (models in Bangkok) of modern Asia. With short Our Ten Years.

Thursday, September 18, 2008
8:20 p.m. Xiao Wu
A small-time, undermotivated pickpocket finds himself on the wrong end of China’s economic leap forward. A milestone in contemporary Chinese cinema.

Friday, September 19, 2008
8:30 p.m. Xiao Shan Going Home
Jia’s rarely screened Beijing Film Academy thesis film portrays a cook (Xiao Wu’s lead actor) desperate to head home. With short In Public.

Friday, September 26, 2008
6:30 p.m. Useless
Jia’s expansive investigation of Chinese industry penetrates three layers of the fashion business—a huge factory, avant-garde designer Ma Ke, and small-town tailors.

Friday, October 3, 2008
8:30 p.m. Unknown Pleasures
Teenage life in a Chinese backwater forms “as true a picture of contemporary existence as we could hope for right now.”—Film Comment

Wednesday, October 8, 2008
7:00 p.m. The World
A Vegas-style theme park in Beijing provides the lonely-planet setting for Jia’s parable on China’s cultural renovation: fake landscapes, real problems. “Highly original, brilliantly conceived.”—Tony Rayns

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
7:00 p.m. Platform
A performance troupe struggles to keep up during China’s 1980s move from communism to capitalism. “Might be the greatest film to come out of mainland China.”—Jonathan Rosenbaum

Friday, October 17, 2008
8:30 p.m. Still Life
See September 12.

Series curated by Susan Oxtoby.

Presented in conjunction with the Center for Asian American Media, with the generous support of the Consortium for the Arts and the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this series: Chow Keung, XStream Pictures; Teresa Kwong and Rachel Wan, Hong Kong Arts Centre; Hajeun Choi, Sidus FNH Corporation; Yann Kerloc’h, Memento Films; Jonathan Howell, New Yorker Films; Clémence Taillandier, Zeitgeist Films; Margaret Deriaz and Julie Pearce, National Film Theatre; James Quandt and George Kaltsounakis, Cinematheque Ontario; Stephen Gong and Chi-hui Yang, CAAM; John Groschwitz, Center for Chinese Studies; and Michele Rabkin and Laura Paulini, Consortium for the Arts.