mercredi 13 mai 2009

52nd San Francisco Film Festival

River People
by He Jianjun
Paru sur le site

The Boatman's Call

The blending of fiction and documentaries, such as the exact opposite, is a common tread nowadays. In fact, to leave the traditional edges of both genres intact may even be considered old-fashionned, specially if one storyline isn’t compelling enough to uplift the entire film by itself.

There may be as much fiction than facts in He Jianjun’s masterly shot River People (Shang ren jia), and to try to discern one from the other would be pointless and silly, as they feed up each other pretty nicely throughout the film. Shot over the course of three years around the Yellow River in the Shanxi province, River People abundant use of ‘cinema verite’ gimmicks plunges us into the daily life of The Shan clan, two generations of rural fishermen torn between tradition and modernity.

Living miles away from the city, young Laba enjoy fishing with his cousin Baowa as taugh by his colourful uncle Chuan Laoda, who leads a reclusive life on a boat during the fishing season and runs a restaurant during wintertime. Chuan Laoda forbids Baowa to leave the family business even if his son believes that his future as a fisherman might not be as bright as his father thinks.

Like Laba, we witness the simple yet skillful rituals of those who are still making this lost part of the world much alive despite their humble condition, such as many other films did before. While it shares some of the same up-close observations of other recent ‘endangered rurals’ themed films – such as Yung Chang’s multi-awarded Up the Yangtze and Wang Bing’s West of the TracksRiver People manages to deliver a fresh perspective on this matter by enhancing the characters struggles and indecisions through what seems to be staged situations, fueled by its protagonists’ abilites to improvise from their very own personalities and histories. We are otherwise updated ponctually with oblique insights of the real heritages at stake thanks to Laba’s own narration about the way the family’s expectations matches less and less Baowa’s ambitions.

This whole approach to the story may sound awfully awkward or overwhelming, but He Jianjun, whose Red Beads won the FIPRESCI Award at the 1993 Rotterdam Festival, always keep the balance right between intervention and distance, mostly with a cohesive, complex-less lavishing HD cinematography and stricking framing, pulling a somewhat small scale portrait far beyond the usual intergenerational cleavage effort and turning it into a rich cinematographic experience. Alike Baowa, He Jianjun expands his view of the world outside tradition while staying true to himself by aknowledging, if not amplifying, the resonance of one family’s ties.

© Charles-Stéphane Roy 2009