for the record, China’s leading documentarian has explicitly likened the
country to Hell through a deliberate and unmistakable extended cinematic
metaphor. Zhao Liang takes viewers on a guided tour of the environmental
devastation wantonly inflicted on Inner Mongolia, with only Dante’s Inferno provided for commentary. The Divine Comedy becomes a Communist
tragedy in Zhao’s Behemoth (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
will take us to three specific locations, or rings of Hell if you will. The
first is in the east, where the coal industry gives strip mining a bad name.
The nomadic herders almost find themselves outrunning the collapsing earth
under the feet, like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon rendered, well yes, in Hell.
furnaces and blackened faces of the western iron forges could not could well be
what inspired Zhao’s poetic use of Dante. It is literally a subterranean
inferno. Just watching this section might cause lung damage and burn trauma.
concluding segment takes in the spectacle of the Kangbashi New Area, the eerily
empty sprawling residential high rises and office buildings that stand like a
monument to hasty overdevelopment in Ordos City. Evidently, some recent
documentaries have suggested Kangbashi is no longer as uninhabited as once
reported. However, it still looks pretty darn desolate in Zhao’s recent footage.
Maybe it still is not yet the right time to pursue that Kangbashi Quizno’s
franchise after all.
who serves as his own cinematographer, captures some striking, stunning, and
altogether staggering images. However, he consciously de-emphasizes the human
element, which makes Behemoth a much
more challenging viewing experience than his profoundly powerful Petition or the daring muckraking of Crime and Punishment. Indeed, the film
has an experimental ethos, in the most forbidding sense of the term.
Nevertheless, Zhao just sends truth cascading
over the audience. It is impossible to watch Behemoth and not conclude the Communist government and its
oligarchical cronies have recklessly plundered the provincial environment past
the point of criminal negligence, directly and perhaps deliberately endangering
the regional ethnic populations that depend on the land for their livelihoods.
Zhao’s visuals stand as an overpowering indictment, but they might also
overwhelm less adventurous viewers. Recommended for sophisticated cineastes, Behemoth screens this Thursday (3/17) at
MoMA and Friday (3/18) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2016 ND/NF.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Documentary, ND/NF '16, Zhao Liang