Tag: Zhao Liang

April 15, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

Consciously conducting a transformation of one’s style can be a tricky and risky business for any artist, and an audacious one too. In competition at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, Behemoth, directed by Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhao Liang, is a performance of such. The film borrows from the dream method and architecture of Dante’s Divine Comedy to enter the monstrous industry chain of Inner Mongolia, and in doing so contemplates the ongoing natural and humanitarian disasters in China. From the investigative curiosity of the HBO series Vice to the sociological concerns of documentary The Land of Many Palaces, the debt-ridden “ghost cities” and their political, economical and social causes and consequences are no stranger to journalism and filmmaking in China and elsewhere. The apocalyptic landscape of collective abandonment has undoubtedly presented a remarkable spectacle within the global circulation of media images. Zhao’s approach to this reality is unique. Starting from soil and motivated by the formidable corporeal presence of migrant workers, the film steadily proceeds through three color schemed stages: the red inferno (coal mines, iron mines, and ironworks), the grey purgatory (hospital), and the blue paradise (the “ghost city” in Ordos). Compared to his earlier works, which are often categorized as “direct cinema” – such as Crime and Punishment (2007) and the epic 5-hour Petition (2009) – Behemoth pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking by simultaneously operating on three plains: documentation, interpretation, and visual experimentation. The result is a stunning cinematic metaphor with a strong personal vision and poignant critique on what he considers the bane of such phenomenal failures of modern civilization: human desire.