A year after winning the Golden Lion for best film at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, director Jia Zhangke’s Still Life receives a belated local premiere at the opening night of the annual, monthlong survey of new Chinese cinema curated by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and REDCAT. Set and shot in Fengjie, a real Chinese town gradually being dismantled and demolished to make way for a massive hydroelectric-dam project, the film tells the stories of two people in transit — a rural coal miner (Han Sanming) in search of his ex-wife and their teenage daughter, and a woman (played by Jia’s frequent muse, the luminous Zhao Tao) looking for her estranged engineer husband. The two storylines are parallel without ever intersecting, each of them affording Jia and his ace cinematographer Yu Lik Wai many opportunities to memorialize the Fengjie landscape in all its decrepit, gutted-out majesty. In one scene, men in hazard uniforms and spray cans make their zombielike way through one such ruin; in another, a building literally blasts off into the stratosphere, like a rocket ship en route to the moon. I’ve said before in these pages that Jia (whose previous films include The World, Unknown Pleasures and Platform) is the greatest Chinese filmmaker of his generation. His great subject — that of a nation making “progress” faster than its own people can keep up with it — reaches its fullest and most painfully beautiful expression yet in Still Life and its companion documentary, Dong, which returns us to Fengjie, this time through the eyes of the acclaimed painter Liu Xiaodong. The two films will be shown on the same night, per Jia’s request. (Jia’s films screen Fri., Oct. 5, 7:30 and 9:40 p.m. in the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum; series continues at REDCAT and UCLA through Oct. 31; see Film/Video Events for details. www.redcat.org and www.cinema.ucla.edu.)
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