Jia Zhang-ke

review touch of sin

Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke delivers the first verifiable dud of the Cannes Film Festival’s In Competition banner this year with A Touch of Sin, a four-part tableau examining the rife inequality cutting throughout the country’s society and how it so frequently bursts into violence. Despite the occasional moment of visceral outlandishness, this is largely an airy, low energy slog that likely sees low odds at scooping the esteemed Palme d’Or. The four stories range from a beleaguered drifter meting out bloody revenge within his small mining town to a migrant worker who similarly discovers the liberating qualities of firearms, a cute receptionist pushed over the edge by her male clients and finally a young factory worker trying to improve his situation. The linking motif is, ostensibly, the violent resolutions that befall either the central characters of each segment or are enacted by them, a statement on the fraught status of China’s social infrastructure.

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Culture Warrior

There has been a heated debate happening in the world of art cinema criticism, from the printed words of Sight and Sound to the blogspots of grad students, about the status and function of a continually dominating aesthetic known as slow cinema. The discussion basically goes like this: on one hand, slow cinema is a rare, unique and truly challenging methodological approach to film that exists to push the boundaries and expectations of plot and pacing to an extreme antithetical to expectations conditioned by mainstream filmmaking, disrupting the norm by presenting a cinema that focuses on details and mood – in a way that only cinema can – rather than narrative; on the other hand, slow cinema has become such an established and familiar formal approach witnessed in art houses and (especially) film festivals (like Cannes, where such films are repeatedly lauded and rewarded) that they have devolved into a paint-by-numbers approach to get an “in” into such venues rather than a sincere exploration of the potentialities of cinematic expression, and furthermore the repeated celebration of slow cinema devalues the medium’s equal potential to manipulate time by condensing it or speeding it up (‘fast’ cinema).

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