Ash Is Purest White (2018) dir. Jia Zhangke
Contemporary Chinese cinema is full of interesting ideas. The one who, through it, has been able to tell the story of a country that has been affected by profound transformations in recent decades, is Jia Zhangke.
In “Ash is purest white” (original title “Jiānghú érnǚ”) as in his other works, the story develops over a very long period of time, during which the life of the protagonists becomes a mirror of Chinese society, with its contradictions, challenges to change, desire to keep pace with overseas countries while in their own evident historical and cultural difference.
A love story that tries to survive time and its injustices, a story in which salvation passes through suffering as in a Dostoevsky book.
OUT OF TIME
Jiānghú, which literally translates into “rivers and lakes”, has taken on other meanings over time, formerly used to define small communities in which the teaching of martial arts by the master to his young students became a real relationship of filiation and in modern times used to define those groups that operate outside the conventional society, such as the Chinese Triads.
It is a changeable term as changeable is the country from which it originates but which always refers to a moral code of brotherhood and loyalty.
Loyalty that the protagonist demonstrates throughout the film despite the events.
THE MAN WHO LOOKS, THE WOMAN WHO ACTS
While Bin’s men watch Taylor Wong’s film “Tragic Hero” (1987), almost as a kind of professional training, Qiao does not need to be trained in life, the love drive generates, as often happens, the death drive.
WOMEN IN LOVE, WOMEN IN PRISON
Sacrificing oneself for the other is a common gesture to the female universe that forces a continuous attempt to overcome the barriers that inevitably obstruct the path to the satisfaction of the senses.
I AM NOT HERE
In the desperate search for the other, in some cases the woman ends up annulling herself, a ghost that wanders in the real world, invisible to those who don’t know the feeling.
When she comes out of prison, Qiao rushes to hug her beloved again, but he denies himself as the photocell that should open the doors to Qiao and that instead seems not to work only for her.
It is unusual to think of the sliding doors that opened to the passage of the ghost in Olivier Assayas “Personal Shopper” (2016) and of these that instead insist on not wanting to recognize the presence of the woman.
FROM WHAT IS BEFORE
The history of Jia Zhangke’s cinema is the history of China, filming places to describe their change, crossing the decades to leave testimony of a past that he does not want to forget.
Urban geography changes, the emotional one often struggles to get used to the change.
ETERNAL RETURN: Unknown Pleasures (2002)
Jia’s latest film is full of references to his previous films, we have already seen how essential it is for him to anchor himself in the past.
In this case it seems that even the costumes must be jealously preserved for future use and memory.
ETERNAL RETURN: Still Life (2006)
Zhao Tao is the constant presence of Jia’s films, the material body of his spirit, the expression of his thought, a magnificent obsession that crosses time and space, up and then beyond the borders of the known world.
ETERNAL RETURN: Platform (2000)
Often with Jia we find ourselves on the threshold of life, framed in the present with our gaze turned to the horizon, towards something we have lost or have never had, secretly wishing for unknown pleasures.
“Jiānghú érnǚ” is also the title of a film released in 1952, written by Fei Mu and directed by him until his untimely death in 1951, later replaced by his colleague Zhu Shilin.
The film, also known internationally by the title (premonitory, I would say) “The Show Must Go On” stars the Chinese actress Wei Wei, already chosen by Fei Mu in her previous 1948 film “Spring in a small town”, now considered the greatest Chinese film ever made, a source of great inspiration for Jia Zhangke as well.
In the film, Wei Wei plays Lotus, the daughter of the leader of a group of acrobats who try to survive in Hong Kong in the hope of one day returning to mainland China, a condition experienced at that time by many artists forced to leave their country of origin with the rise to power of Mao, including Fei Mu.
When Wei Wei arrived in Hong Kong to shoot the film, Fei Mu initially did not reveal the plot, he only told her to learn to juggle the unicycle and the so-called ‘Plate spinning’. Mission accomplished as shown by the photo below.