Simultaneously more and less than meets the eye, Jia Zhang-ke’s chronicle of a state-run military factory complex being demolished to erect luxury apartments amounts to a subversive take on the talking-head documentary and how we’ve taken its conventions of authoritativeness for granted. Nine first-person recollections involving octagenarians and teenagers alike collectively account for the life and death of the communist dream in China. The stories allude to major events, such as the forced migrations of the populace during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, while specific memories are flavored with precise period details like TV shows, movies and, above all, songs (the soundtrack by itself serves an aural history of Chinese pop culture). Delivered in a seemingly nondescript television documentary style, the stories aren’t as dramatically compelling as, say, your average hour of This American Life; viewers not particularly interested in learning about China’s recent history are likely to be lulled to sleep, and may not even notice the formalist coup being performed on the documentary format. Four of the nine interviews are conducted with professional actors playing the interviewees, including Joan Chen (playing a character named after a character she played in another movie) and Jia regular Zhao Tao. Such casting can’t help but cast an uneasy shade of fiction onto the proceedings, while suggesting that these subjects are as much characters in a historical fiction being woven together as they are artifacts of a documentary reality. History is ex post facto; communism has now been relegated to nostalgic myth, as summed up by the character played by Zhao Tao, who tearfully utters, “I am the daughter of cadres,” invoking her parent’s lifetime of suffering as anonymous laborers to give her courage to face the new capitalist environment. What emerges in 24 City is a moving three-fold meditation: on the many stories of a bygone era, both epic and banal, that are bound to be left untold and forgotten; the many fictions woven—whether by the media, by our ancestors, or by ourselves—into our understanding of reality; and a dying ideology’s legacy on how its people tell their stories.
- Cinema Guild
- 85 min
- Jia Zhang-ke
- Jia Zhang-ke
- Chen Jianbin, Joan Chen, Lu Liping, Zhao Tao
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