community is not just an assemblage of condos. Frankly, the complex in question
is more of a concentration of angst than a communal body. Notions of community
and the lack thereof feature prominently in Cao Fei’s hybrid documentaries, with
the emphasis placed squarely on the “hybrid.” Contemporary Chinese life gets a
strange but true-in-spirit genre spin in Cao’s Haze and Fog (trailer here) and iMirror,
which screen together during MoMA’s 2015 Documentary Fortnight.
Haze feels very much like a standard
aesthetically severe observational documentary, except Cao seems to have an
eccentric knack for focusing on dark, uncomfortable moments. We see a
prostitute going about her 50 Shades business
with clients in the building, security guards peeping on tenants, and a
pregnant housewife engaging in self-destructive behavior. Perhaps Cao’s cast
really is part of the building’s universe, but hopefully they are playing
everyone is alienated to some extent, despite their close proximity. Gao uses
their daily frustrations to critique an increasingly fractured Chinese society
and the continuing conflict between empty consumerism and traditional values.
Then Haze turns into a zombie film.
For real. It is all part of the allegory, but the zombies do what zombies do.
is a strange film—and a bold pick for Doc Fortnight. It clocks in just over an
hour, but it is unlikely Cao could have sustained the weird, anesthetizing vibe
and frequency of understated, untelegraphed WTF moments much longer. It is a
masterful piece of filmmaking that keeps the audience off-balance from start to
finish, but Cao also gets some notably sensitive performances from Wang Chenxu
as the young single woman and Liu Lu as the expecting housewife.
iMirror also falls a good
deal outside the traditional bounds of Fortnight selections, but it is more deliberately
doc-ish. Cao, billed as “China Tracy,” her virtual handle, chronicles a
relationship she had with the avatar of an older man from San Francisco, within
the virtual reality world of Second Life (SL). It is not really a catfish story,
because he was more-or-less who he claimed to be and it is understood that
everyone constructs idealized versions of themselves. Yet, it got pretty real,
even though it wasn’t.
second part of iMirror focusing on
China Tracy’s virtual something with the younger and then older looking Hug Yue
is considerably stronger than parts one and three, which mostly just establish
the issues and environment of SL. Naturally, the animation looks very computer
generated, as it must, because that is SL. Nevertheless, the film raises a
number of questions for offline viewers, especially given the apparent freedom
Cao found there. Is this a place where connected Chinese citizens can go to
escape government censorship and surveillance? If so, why the hammer-and-sickle
decorative motifs? Is a utopian ideologue inherently attracted to the
presumptive perfectiveness of SL’s virtual world?
Given their genre elements, Haze and iMirror fit
together rather easily, but the former is the far more challenging and
inventive film. If you are a MoMA member you should drop in and see it when it
screens, because love it or hate it, you will not see anything like it anytime
soon. Highly recommended, Haze and Fog screens
with iMirror next Thursday (2/26) and
Friday (2/27) as part of this year’s Documentary Fortnight at MoMA.
Labels: Animated films, Cao Fei, Chinese Cinema, Documentary, Documentary Fortnight '15, Zombies