The Magnifying Class #7


Sanxia haoren.

The next “Magnifying Class” is taking place tomorrow at the University of Oxford. Our group will be analysing and discussing Sanxia haoren (Still Life, 2006), directed by Jia Zhang-ke.

The film, whose original title means The Good People of the Three Gorges, is abundant in medium shots that frame people from the waist up. It is as if these persons do not have a ground to stand on. The gigantic Three Gorges Dam project is at the centre of the narrative as an engine of transformation of this region and of the lives of its people and the earth (in the Heideggerian sense of sustenance to the historical being that disappears in the turmoil of technology). Following Heidegger, we could say that the film contextualises its own origin. It provides an interpretation of the specific relationship between the cultural contrivances of existence and the natural context with which these contrivances are engaged. Perhaps this is why in some moments the ordinary becomes extra-ordinary. The idea underlying the events involving UFOs seems to be that the uneventful is not an excuse for distraction, but an opportunity for attention.

There is not exactly a rapport between the camera and the performers. Instead, there is a kind of co-ordination since the first panoramic shots on the boat — Sanming Han turns his eyes to the landscape as the camera stops its movement to focus on him. The behaviour of the camera is often autonomous from the motion of actors. In the striking scene when a motorcyclist takes Han to the (submerged) part of the town that he is looking for, the camera apparently follows a passing boat, but then seems to be searching for, or simply steering our attention to, an inhabited piece of land where buildings still stand.


“The Magnifying Class”: #3 · #4 · #5 · #6