There’s a palpable despondency suspended over the three protagonists of Zhang Chi’s The Shaft, dangling as tenuously as the thin-wired elevator system that shuttles dreary miners to and from the titular, coal-riddled corridor. Set in a small, post-rural Chinese mining town, the film follows the dismal fate of a single father who’s devoted his life to the ramshackle industry, and his two adult children, both of whom are burdened with the heritage of their family’s nocuous occupation. This cross-generational angst is explored in three stories wherein we observe filial and paternal aspirations lugubriously disintegrating: The paterfamilias seeks his long-estranged wife in the unfamiliar thicket of the Internet while son and daughter simply pipedream of life elsewhere, particularly in the pop-urban embrace of a romanticized Beijing. The impending disappointments are predictable from the start, and quite conspicuously woven into the film’s pace and visual strategy; aching silences dominate most conversations (characters often face outward toward the camera, rather than at each other, to overbearingly signify a lack of intimacy), and many scenes fatalistically fade to black. And yet the stark melancholia achieves a rare authenticity, perhaps most pointedly manifested in the objective correlative of the mineshaft itself, the dismal bowels of which we only see in two brief and uneventful scenes. The family doesn’t abhor mining because it’s hazardous or arduous, but because it represents their only career option: It’s a Plutonian symbol of universal resignation. The poisonous womb of the shaft is too apt a metaphor for their domestic and romantic suffocation. The intermittent genius of director Zhang Chi resides in how he juxtaposes this social claustrophobia with scenes of refreshing but elegiac liberation. A pair of rejected red shoes rest on a calm lake, a boy stares dumbfounded at his misguided passion for a Karaoke tune, and a bus climbs the tortuous path to a haze-enveloped hill peak. The cynical assertion, made eerily poetic with this collection of images, is that escaping the dungeon of the mine may be just as heartbreaking as submitting to it.
- 98 min
- Zhang Chi
- Zhang Chi
- Luo Deyuan, Huang Xuan, Zheng Luoqian, Li Chen
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