Daniel Nelson

Mountains May Depart is a hugely ambitious film that nearly achieves what it sets out to do.

It focuses on Tao, a Chinese woman in northern Shanxi province, her two suitors - the steady local miner and the pushy entrepreneur who buys the mine - and her son by the man she chooses.

The story plays out in three different time periods: 1999 (dancing to the Pet Shop Boys singing "Go West"), 2014, and 2025. The best is first, the least is last, and though the film is long it's always intriguing, not only for the way the relationships unfold but for it's hard look at Chinese capitalism.

And what a politial and economic transformation is seen through the lens of director Jia Zhangke's intimate family epic, as traditional values run alongside crude and violent conduct, gentleness clashes with greed, hard work morphs into relentless profit-seeking, glitz replaces rough and ready. China is not alone in adopting vapid consumerism and ruthless competitiveness, but the rapidity of the transition is breathtaking - too fast, Jia seems to suggest through the words of the woman at the heart of the film when says she prefers the slow-stopper to the bullet train because there's more time to observe and savour. 

The time-zones are filmed differently, with varying sets of colours and even shifting screen widths. 

It's far from perfect. A few

Mountains May Depart

Mountains May Depart

Image by Mountains May Depart

 events are inexplicable and the final act, in Australia - where father and son are living, an extension of the original move from provincial backwardness to urban modernism - is unsatisfactory, even though it suggests you can take the Chinese out of China but you can't take China out of the Chinese.

Don't expect too much, too fast. This is a film to savour, incuding its longeurs, and then to read and think about.


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