Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Platform (2000, China/France/Hong Kong/Japan, Jia Zhang Ke)

Although considered by many critics to be Jia Zhang Ke's masterpiece and indeed one of the finest films of the decade so far, it never quite resonated with me to that extent, though I don't think one viewing is quite enough to appreciate it's depth and detail.

Platform weaves an allegorical tale of the fate of a state subsidised theatre troupe named The Peasant Culture Group from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, which mirrors the changes that were taking place in China throughout this period. In 1979, this troupe is touring villages across the country, educating the masses with Maoist propaganda and slogans. It's all very orthodox and disciplined - the authorities don't take too kindly to a traditional song performed backstage about having many wives and children - the performers are rebuked and reminded of the policy of monogamy and birth control. Indeed, the very next scene shows the troupe singing about China's one child policy in a rural village.

As the economic and social reforms embarked upon by Deng Xiaoping take shape, the troupe find their subsidies cut and privatisation a natural consequence. Pop music, inspired by sounds emanating from Hong Kong and Taiwan become the group's repetoire, culminating in the rather embarrassing All Stars Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band, which tours the provinces to satiate the desire for China's youth for musical entertainment. But it's a long long way from their roots.

Throughout this journey, Jia Zhang Ke shows the artistic and personal differences that occur within the group; relationships and friendships start and end, members have to earn salaries in "proper" jobs - unsafe mines which pay a meagre wage, whilst opposing the traditions and values of their parents who still try to arrange their children's lives and potential marriages, although the final scenes indicate how the dreams these performers once had have to be put on hold.

Epic in scope and length, it's not an easy watch by any means, though patience and persistence should bring greater rewards. Typically shot in long takes with no close ups, Jia keeps a distance from the events taking place on screen, observing the social, economic and cultural changes that have taken place in this rapidly modernising country, acknowledging that progress can cut many people adrift. 'Platform' needs to be seen in the wider context of Jia's career as a film maker who has challenged conventions and examined the past, present and future of China for a decade now. 3.5/5 (potentially increasing upon subsequent viewings)

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