China’s epically intimate (or is it intimately epic?) documentary movement finds a major new exponent in Feng Yan, whose new documentary Bing Ai chronicles the labour, loves and indomitable willpower of Zhang Bing Ai, a Chinese peasant woman who dares to defy the state.
Bing Ai, her husband and two children harvest oranges on the banks of the Yangtze River. Their misfortune is to be located in the flood basin of the Three Gorges Dam Project. The government orders her to relocate, and offers miserable compensation. Bing Ai refuses to move on such terms, and thus begins a decade long struggle with local officials and the land.
Feng Yan spent ten years filming Bing Ai, and out of this material has crafted one of the most moving and fascinating documentaries to come out of China in years. Bing Ai’s charisma and resilience shine through as we see her in various confrontations with stolid local bureaucrats, just “doing their jobs.” The human cost of China’s unprecedented re-engineering of its environment is the main subject here. But the most remarkable revelations come from Bing Ai’s intimate life: the film is at its heart an ode to love that slowly grows between husband and wife.
Utterly without condescension, the film gives not only a feel for the rhythms of their daily routines, but also opens up the detailed texture of their emotional lives: it’s a remarkable portrait of a world that for most of us exists only in the abstract. —Vancouver International Film Festival