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Cannes 2010. Jia Zhangke's "I Wish I Knew"

Cannes 2010

"Like his last film, 2008's 24 City, Jia Zhangke's Un Certain Regard title I Wish I Knew is a documentary/fiction hybrid about modern-day China," begins Matt Noller at the House Next Door. "Where 24 City took a personal focus on the citizens of a Chinese town affected by the construction of a high-rise condominium, I Wish I Knew takes a broader view, examining the history of Shanghai as viewed from the present.... The film is never less than gorgeous, and there's often an intuitive and pleasing internal rhythm to how he cuts within and between shots. It's also a bit inscrutable, never quite locking down an easy theme or single organizational strategy."

"The film suffers from information deficiency, so while Chinese can relate to most of their conversations yet find the content familiar, overseas audiences are adrift in a sea of non-chronological memories," writes Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter. "Jia's regular cinematographer Yu Lik Wai's mellow, impressionist images of old and new quarters of Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong create a tone poem effect that is becoming routine in Jia's oeuvre. Jia's screen muse, Zhao Tao, gets the most gratuitous role in her career, roaming the city's landmarks and neglected slums with a troubled expression."

"As far as I could tell," writes Mike D'Angelo at the AV Club, "there are no fake interviews (as there were in 24 City), but this collection of just-folks seemed to me much less compelling than Jia's last; the most interesting recollections come from film-industry figures like director Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Flowers of Shanghai) and actress Wei Wei (the 1948 classic Spring in a Small Town), in part because this allows Jia to compare footage of Shanghai past to his own depiction of Shanghai present. Still, I couldn't for the life of me work out Jia's organizing principle, if any, and a graph of my interest level throughout the film's 138 minutes would look mighty familiar to any seismologist."

"He's not operating at the height of his skill here, but I'll take him even at reduced strength," blogs Wesley Morris for the Boston Globe. "The robust applause for him at the end of the film was touching. He has a boyishness that makes it easy to imagine the people in his nonfiction spilling themselves to him so easily."

The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth gives the film a D; grades average much higher at Letras de Cine, but there are dissenters.

Phillip Maher interviews Jia for the Allmovie Blog.

Viewing (10'17" and 7'32"). At the Asia Society, Jia discusses the "Realist Imperative" (with clips from his films) and Zhao Tao talks about working with him.

Update: "[D]espite some fascinating sequences," blogs the Voice's J Hoberman, the film "seems suspiciously like an infomercial for the upcoming Shanghai World's Fair."

Update, 5/19: A moment from Allan Hunter's review for Screen: "Zuo Qiansheng recalls working as an assistant to Michelangelo Antonioni during his time in Shanghai in the early 1970s and the punishment he suffered for his inability to steer the Italian auteur towards an officially sanctioned view of what he should be shooting."

Page at Cannes (Un Certain Regard). Cannes 2010: Coverage of the coverage index.

Please tell me that Matt Noller used inscrutable in an ironic sense, or are Charlie Chanisms coming back into style?
I love these reports and all the work spent gathering them but does anyone really think that the hollywood reporter ever has anything real to say about anything? Every time I’ve encountered it, it has had little to no value for me apart from something to look at for five minutes before wishing I could throw it away. Yet I feel like it always gets quoted. probably because they are always at every festival and there are only so many reports coming out and they are always first or near first. but that doesn’t make it a worthwhile thing.
David, are you asking me if I’m serious? If so, yes. The word inscrutable combined with China or the Chinese has a too long and notable a history of abuse to be used lightly, especially when there are plenty of other perfectly good ways to say the same thing.
Ok, fair enough. I can’t know what was on Matt Noller’s mind, of course, but I’d guess that this association was about the farthest thing from it.
I’m sure that was the case since the modifier “a bit” came before it, and I certainly cast no aspersions on his character since I don’t know the man and I assume of him, as I assume of all cinephiles until proven incorrect, that he is a good guy. I just felt his usage of the word was a bit tone deaf and unintentionally inflammatory. For what it’s worth, it points to the issue of critics adopting a stance of imperiousness or excess authority. To say something is inscrutable is to suggest the thing being referenced is alone at fault, when in most cases a more appropriate phrasing would reference the critic’s part in the dialogue by using an I statement to claim a potentially equal failure to comprehend. That however is a conversation for a different time in a different spot.

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