Platform (Jia, 2000)

Jia Zhang Ke has a way with words. The first two Jia features I’ve seen, first 2004’s The World and now Platform, show a maturity and layered complexity toward rightly naming the text, in turn displaying the stunning possibilities such usage can invoke when broken down to the barest essentials. In creating seemingly simple titles, Jia allows his material to explode with referential possibilities, his characters and regions specific to Chinese issues, but also strangely universal in their humanity. Both these films evolve meticulously, built equally around mise-en-scene and music. But The World, with it’s exceptional tracking shots, hypnotic score, and timely post modern mystique, feels more poignant.Platform, which follows a Chinese Theater Troupe as it tours the countryside during the 1980’s, remains deeply committed to similar themes The World addresses (communal transition, historiography). The film distances itself from the viewer almost completely through the use of long shot one takes, Jia (taking Ozu to the extreme) positioning the camera at medium height and letting his actors move within the locked frame. His blocking is brilliant and always has been. But for all his great technical spirit, Jia’s characters and their world feel just out of reach. Faces are obscured, groups mass together, and ellipses scale an epic amount of time almost seamlessly (the film covers the entire 1980’s). Jia’s style fits these themes, addressing the disconnect and seepage both Western and communist ideologies bring to the table. But his style overwhelms character in favor of a distancing effect. While a thought-provoking artistic decision, one must go back to The World as an contrary example of a masterful compromise between story and ontology. The film successfully mixes Jia’s art-film visual style and brilliant need to flesh out character, both in communities and individual situations. Here, Jia roams the urban landscape in search of something beautiful hidden in modern day popular culture. More amazing, his vision of the world respects and defines crucial human emotions like greed, pain, sorrow, and doubt, something with which we can never get enough.Jia’s autuerist traits, his attention to communities, landscapes (both city and countryside), calculated camera movement, all segue-way back into his one or two word titles. This might be Jia’s grandest coup; showing how beautifully the entire world can fit into such a tiny space.

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