For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.
Critics reviews
Behemoth
Zhao Liang China, 2015
There are, as always, questions to be raised about that approach, but Zhao avoids exploitation. “I don’t think that artistic works can change society,” he told The New York Times. “They are very weak.” He said he has moved toward making movies for himself, rather than out of a sense of social responsibility. And yet, with this movie, Zhao has given us the kind of illuminating art the issue deserves. He opts to reveal and persuade where others deign to preach.
August 01, 2017
Read full article
Beautiful to watch and horrifying to contemplate, Zhao Liang’s experimental documentary BEHEMOTH considers China’s coal industry, its negative effects on the environment, and some the people directly impacted by its devastations. Zhao captures stunning landscape shots of the mines in Inner Mongolia, presenting them like Renaissance-era paintings of Hell.
March 10, 2017
Read full article
At the movies, it’s Dump Month, which stretches into February: no film with award aspirations will open until the end of winter. But there are exceptions in this dominion of crap, including Behemoth, a lyrical documentary by the Chinese director Zhao Liang.
January 31, 2017
Read full article
It opens with a distant shot of some kind of excavation project. Mechanical shovels and earth-movers sit on ridges of land carved out by other machines and while all is still for a short time, that quiet is torn apart by a loud explosion that sends sheets of dust into the air. Black and red and grey and yellow dust. It’s beautiful, just as the strafing of a tropical shoreline at the opening of “Apocalypse Now” was beautiful. Catastrophe seen from afar sometimes looks positively awe-inspiring.
January 27, 2017
Read full article
Exposing the ill effects of China’s drive to develop, the mesmerizing Behemoth, a boldly visual essay film by the political documentarian Zhao Liang, depicts the successive stages of industrial manufacture as a de facto descent into hell… Zhao evokes—and, indeed, practically invokes—Werner Herzog’s 1992 improvised masterpiece Lessons of Darkness, a triumph of framing and footage that surveyed the Kuwaiti oil fields blazing after the first Gulf War.
January 26, 2017
Read full article
If the movie’s goal is to accord humanity to forgotten workers, it’s easy to be of two minds. Zhao does not identify his subjects or — for the most part — give them a direct voice. Yet, “Behemoth” can be uncomfortably intimate. It ponders faces and blistered hands, and shows bottles of black fluid being extracted from workers, a consequence of pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease… Its haunting power grows in retrospect — as if you’ve returned from a journey and can’t believe what you’ve seen.
January 26, 2017
Read full article
Zhao forgoes any sense of identification, attempting to get the level of myth, casting the destruction of the landscape and the exploitation of the workers—who return blackened at the end of every shift, until they end up wheezing in a bed with a nasal cannula looped over their ears—as a cycle of elemental forces. It could stand to be more fluid, but it leaves a heck of an impression.
January 25, 2017
Read full article
The acclaimed Chinese documentarian and video artist assumes a poetic view of industry — here made exquisite in its violence, ravishing in its destructive power. Much as Antonioni did in the petrochemical plants of northern Italy, Zhao finds in the coal mines and ironworks of Inner Mongolia a devastating, infuriating splendor.
January 25, 2017
Read full article
The best of them is Zhao Liang’s monumental Behemoth, which fuses an aesthetically audacious vision of Chinese coal mining with Dante’s Divine Comedy, conjuring the dehumanising scale and eternal struggle of the people versus the machine.
January 13, 2017
Read full article
The sublime devastation of massive industry has appeared in documentaries before, but for his portrayal of Inner Mongolian mines, Zhao reaches for the lyrical to express the scale and ruthlessness of Chinese industrialization. Vast valleys, machines, and explosions sprawl across the screen, interspersed with voiceover quotations adapted from Dante and punctuated with the image of a nude, embryonically curled man poised in the landscape, emblematic of human fragility.
January 03, 2017
Read full article
Zhao’s miraculous film is extremely simple in its political aims… He toys with the form, including the occasional fictional insert of a naked wanderer observing the desolation from afar. Sometimes, the manner in which he films a subject transforms it into something otherworldly.
August 18, 2016
Read full article
The images in Behemoth would be as much at home in a gallery as in a cinema; in a sense, the film revives an old tradition of poetic documentary, and does so with rather more backbone than recent films from the ‘sensory lab’ at Harvard. If that means that Zhao will be more a visual artist than a filmmaker in future, so much the richer for his audience.
August 05, 2016
By taking us down into the mines where coal is extracted, then “into the hidden abode of production” where coal is burnt to smelt metals and forge steel, and finally into a deserted Paradise City full of newly constructed apartment complexes built with these materials,Behemoth realizes Marx’s dream of documenting the raw-matter-to-finished-product cycle to illustrate both its economic and human costs.
March 17, 2016
Read full article
Work does not cease in the dark; a fleet of construction excavators and the music of metal machines grind on under the cover of night, lit softly with the glow of steam and dust. The obvious beauty of these images is bittersweet; we are gazing after all at what is now scorched earth, tilled by machinery and toiled over by humans, impoverished and exploited.
March 17, 2016
Read full article
Zhao, who’s been making politically-minded nonfiction films in various of these modes for over a decade, has with his latest attempted a kind of synthesis that, while occasionally straining under the sheer breadth of the endeavour, represents an ambitious bid at engaging the visceral potential of the cinema as a means of articulation for an otherwise silenced majority.
March 17, 2016
Read full article
Behemoth, with its textured high-definition imagery and measured pace, like that of a lumbering land-monster, is Zhao’s most polished work—enough to make you worry that the rough-and-ready smuggler of Petition might in the future succumb to arty arthritis.
March 16, 2016
Read full article
Zhao may not be subtle, but for most of Behemoth, prior to its blunt yet powerful denouement, his approach is also surprisingly impressionistic.
March 13, 2016
Read full article
A descent into a deep subterranean mine and a series of blindingly fiery eruptions in a steel mill are matched by Zhao’s calmly furious closeups of workers whose faces and bodies are marked by these dangerous labors. Punctuated with terrifying (albeit controlled) explosions, choking smoke storms, and impressionistic images of fractured landscapes, “Behemoth” seems to shudder with the destructive power of invisible, ubiquitous, and cruelly indifferent authority.
March 11, 2016
Read full article