Collected Works: Film
directed by Jia Zhangke
In the world documented by Jia Zhangke, the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx, and the Empire State Building stand together to form a single skyline. The film takes as its subject a theme park in Beijing, a real-life location where famous global landmarks have been recreated at reduced proportions, all shoehorned into one great complex. At first glance, the park may appear tacky, but, through The World’s fiction, it is revealed as a multi-layered microcosm worthy of our curiosity.
The film observes the routine of daily existence: the ennui of work, the quiet conversations of lovers. But this attention to the ordinary serves only to highlight the intrigue of the park as a setting. Through the camera’s remove, it becomes a space for the strange and supernatural. The widescreen format allows for the distortion of corridors, and for the elongation of the winding rail tracks snaking through The World’s acres. Our vantage point is often elevated, suggesting weightless omniscience.
Entertainers permeate the park’s grounds, drifting as if holograms throughout its geographic incongruity. Cross-sections of colour peel down the screen off-centre as we observe their hyper-vivid costumes. The suggestion of heightened visual perception is realised most fully in a series of animated vignettes, which break up the plot. In these interpolated passages, individuals are liberated from gravity, objects appear unnaturally sized, and the bright lights of Beijing become all-consuming.
Jia Zhangke’s film exploits the permeable boundary between theatre and reality. Central characters retain their real-life names, the facsimile landmarks provide a readymade mise-en-scène, and actors play the roles of performers. The film is almost without rhythm, discursive and unhurried in its meditation on the park, as if time operates differently within its walls. In comprehending its peculiarities, we come to recognise that the outside world can be just as strange.
Words by Elizabeth Brown