© 2013 by James Clark
Having just come away from von Trier’s Dogville (2003), in its installation of austerity so dark that the viewer is required to visit its laboratory-like showroom many times before coming to its Plutonian joys, I’ve approached Jia Zhangke’s latest film as a hit of almost astronomical sensuousness, in the service of that same elusive buoyancy. Imagine my consternation, then, in looking over some commentary about that recent release, to find such a consensus that this film has seen fit to confine its remarkable energies and insights to, like Dogville’s weepy Vera, enjoying a good and bitter cry about the many casualties of free enterprise in China today.
If it is, indeed, all (rather than a touch) about the scandal (sinfulness) of recent Chinese capitalism, why does it provide so many locales of the scruffy and crane-salient fringes of cities undergoing a building boom, which remind us of the settings of Antonioni and Fellini films? Why does the plunge-from-a-building suicide, in its fourth and final segment, of a discouraged man, going from job-to-job, come into some kind of contact with the closing scene of Antonioni’s Il Grido (The Cry)? Antonioni, it goes without saying, was about neither politics nor moralism. Why, in that same concluding episode, do we see a re-enactment, by a young and not unperceptive woman, employed in what is generally covered by the hilarious euphemism, “adult entertainment,” of Alice’s fellatio with Mr. Eddy, in David Lynch’s, Lost Highway? Why is it, indeed, just as involved with the Balthazar motif as is von Trier’s Dogville? Despite what so many contend about Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (2013), it is a truly compelling work precisely because it is not primarily absorbed with Chinese history, but rather with world history. (more…)