Aesthetics of change

by Suyash Kamat

Development. Capitalism. Working class, and pop culture. Aspirations, violence, angst. All these ideas, buzzwords and concepts have become integral to any attempt for dialogue about the 21st century.  mountains-may-depart-556x314Everyone can see there are prolonged, mammoth changes underway, which are positive and kind to many, but simultaneously uncomfortable for others. These juxtapositions are the focus of the cinema of Jia Zhangke,  whose latest movie, ‘Mountains May Depart’ is one of the highlights of IFFI 2015.
One of the most significant chroniclers of modern day China, Jia Zhangke is among the most important filmmakers in the world. In the 1990s, while his country experienced an exuberant, dramatically transformational economic boom, Jia’s debut film ‘The Pickpocket’ (1997) probed beneath the glamour to explore the personal lives of individuals, setting these more intimate stories set against the broader trajectory of reforms and a rapidly changing way of life.
platform01His next film, ‘Platform’ (2000)featured lead characters whose lives changed as society changed, unaware as they might be of what was happening to them. Jia zoomed in on the generation of twentysomethings from 1979 to 1989, who became preoccupied with consumer items like western-style jeans. In the meanwhile, the older generations didn’t seem to understand either the kids or the jeans.
With later movies, Jia’s work gradually shifted from a realist portrayal of the society around him, and started to incorporate elements of surrealism, which he insists is ‘a crucial part of China’s reality’. This political commentary in his movies strikes home in India as well. While heavily touted marketing slogans about ‘Make In India’ and ‘FDI’ continue to increase in volume, it is readily apparent that ever-greater numbers of people are marginalized, alienated, and pushed onto the periphery. Change is a constant, but it also throws off distinct winners and losers. Through Jia’s films it is possible to come to terms with one’s own idea of change and how it can be dealt with.

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