Monday, December 06, 2004

Went to part of an Michelangelo Antonioni film festival last week. He is an Italian director, very old now, but still alive. The movies which weren't in English, and there were a couple, were subtitled so I could watch them without trouble. Two movies on Thursday evening, two movies on Friday evening, three short films Saturday morning, one film Saturday night and, finally, two on Sunday evening. One of the films, shot in Africa, showcased Jack Nicholson in, perhaps, his first starring role, which was interesting.

The coup de grĂ¢ce of the festival was a three part documentary about China, Chung Kuo, commissioned by the Chinese government in the early seventies. Following the completion of the movie, it was banned here and only shown for this first time in China as part of this festival. Needless to say, we felt like it was a special treat to be watching this movie here.

The theater was packed on Saturday evening, which generated a nice bit of energy about the movie we were going to watch. The film was a genuine look at China and, in particular, Beijing, during the cultural revolution, although there were lengthy segments about a couple other provinces, including Shanghai. The entire first part of the documentary was about Beijing, capturing the lives of young and old alike.

The movie, among other parts of daily life for the Chinese, showed a live birth, further complicated by a caesarean, in which the mother was utilizing acupuncture as the anesthetic for the procedure. Two long metal needles, at least one foot long, were inserted along the places where the incision was to be made. The audience was writhing. After insertion, wires were connected to the ends of the needles and electricity was administered. Everything seemed to go according to plan and the baby seemed fine and healthy. This was one of the more striking images in the documentary.

Some other notable images: a woman at a medical clinic in a small village making cotton balls by hand, tearing of small pieces of cotton from a large sheet, balling them up, and throwing them into another receptacle; school children exercising and singing political songs in the morning; a Navy battleship, filmed, as the narrator said, illegally; farmers bringing their produce to market on the river; a tea house in Shanghai for party representatives and their guests; simply the massive influence of Mao Tse Tung, which is still strong today.

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