By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall December 3, 2009 at 1:40AM
The Back Row Manifesto's Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) will be unveiled over the course of the month of December. Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading and please check back every day over the next few weeks for the full list. The introduction to the list can be found here.
To Western eyes, the rise of China is shrouded in mystery; a massive population, the potential of the marketplace as a global powerhouse, the military might of a rapidly industrialized nation, the political introversion, the state control of markets and information-- all of it combines in the Western mind to make the country seem something of an unknowable specter poised to unleash itself on the world. But that is Cold War thinking, of course; China isn't a potential, looming anything as much as it is a living, vibrant nation full of diverse interests and artists striving to capture the experience of their times in an honest, meaningful way. In the same way the nation that brought you the Iraq War could also bring you a film like There Will Be Blood, the past decade has seen the cinema deliver a new, oppositional view of the Chinese nation to the outside world.
Just as the rise of China's political might is re-shaping the geopolitical landscape, so too cinema from and about China is setting a new standard for brilliance. At the top of the pile for me, lest this list become an entire homage to Jia Zhang-Ke (which it certainly could have been) is Platform, an absolute, stone-cold masterpiece of a movie that captures the struggle of youth to find identity and happiness while constantly living and creating in the shadow of the massive state. The film was the opening salvo of a decade that would come to redefine Chinese cinema and it, along with Jia's Unknown Pleasures, The World and Still Life, remains a seminal step in building a cinematic bridge from the heart and soul of the Chinese nation into the world beyond. It was this bridge, it seems, that allowed a Canadian filmmaker like Yung Chang to create another masterpiece, the documentary Up The Yangtze, which documents the physical transformation of China's Three Gorges during the construction of the world's largest hydroelectric dam. Both films are haunted by the damage and radical change that are transforming the nation, both culturally and physically. It is they, along with so much of the great cinema coming out of China, that demonstrate that the harmony projected by the official vision of a rising nation, for example (and unforgettably), here...
...is not the story of human experience and national history, but instead a mythopoetic fantasia that disregards the vast diversity of experience as it is lived among the people of China. As China continues to grow and expand as a superpower among nations, it might be too easy to forget the importance of a film like Platform in shaping the story of the country; it is the universal tale of being young and restless; broken hearts, love songs, new wave concerts and all. It remains an unforgettable movie and one that continues to provide a moving and humane counterpoint to the development of an international identity for not only China itself but for the world's greedy understanding of China as little more than billions of customers in waiting. Instead, Platform is a (if not the) seminal movie for this decade, a bellwether for the new global cinematic identity that is blossoming in the age of the internet.
A collective thought then, for the people of that nation, living like me and you; full of longing, the fight and the daily struggle to define oneself always at hand, convention, history, rules and the state be damned...
Jia Zhang-Ke's Platform