The course charted by Michelangelo Antonioni in Chung Kuo China presents unforgettable glimpses of one of the world’s richest cultures. Although he visits familiar sights such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, the film’s focus is fixed towards the people themselves. Across China, from major cities like Peking and Shanghai to the Henan province, people struggle amidst poverty and hardship to sustain the collective revolutionary spirit that liberated them. Chung Kuo China is an indelible time capsule of the aftermath of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the defining event of Modern China.
Despite receiving the direct support of the Chinese Communist Party during production, Chung Kuo China provoked a strong backlash on its initial release, earning rebuke from Mao Zedong himself. While well received in the West, the film did not find its intended audience until its 2004 screening at the Beijing Cinema Institute. One of Antonioni’s most innovative works, formerly languishing as a prized object in cinema archives, Chung Kuo China’s vision achieves greater resonance in the 21st Century than the time of its release. —Mr Bongo
Michelangelo Antonioni once described his work as “archeological research” which sifted through “the arid remains of our times”. If Fellini claimed to treat the past as science fiction, Antonioni gazed deeply into the future already visible in the present (L’Eclisse) or a past which uneasily hung onto a present that had outlived it (L’Avventura). Born in an upper-middle class family in Ferrara in 1912; Antonioni studied economics at the University of Bologna, where he staged works by Luigi Pirandello as well as original work written by himself. Antonioni’s time as a film critic for the Roman Cinema magazine brought him in contact with Cesare Zavattini, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and others. For Rossellini, he would co-write Un pilota ritorna and with Fellini, he collaborated on the screenplay of his first feature The White Shiek.
Antonioni, however, yearned to begin his own career in film. To this end, he enrolled at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinemografia… read more
Antonioni’s Middle Kingdom mosaic, of an epoch post-Cultural Revolution yet pre-Deng reform. While stating its people present the topography of his canvas over political essay, his focus on the socio-economic - fixed way of life, geo-social inequity, ethos of diffidence amidst frugal living, and the societal subservience ingrained from school for as long as the society exists and the revolutionary status quo prevails - sees an oblique, inquisitive but earnest document formed, through elucidating lens. Needless to say, Mao was not amused.