Review: Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhang-Ke)

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“Through life anyone can just getting along with everyone”


The classic song “Go West” in the version by The Pet Shop Boys, which was one of the most popular singles in 90s around the world, opens and finishes this movie, besides completes its meaning. Go west have been the desire of many during years, a symbol of different kind of freedom.

One of the Asiatic director who most has talked about in his filmography – beyond the discussion if he is effective or not -, the implications of globalisation has been Jia Zhang-Ke. Mountains May Depart is, maybe, his most accessible movie about this, where he talks about uprooting.

This loss of national identity is intensified in the third act when movie goes into a near future, but this is not the only topic in this feature film. Zhang-Ke talks  also about fate, love and consequences of our choices.

There are three clear acts in this movie, that are highlighted for three different times explored with three aspect ratios that give them total sense: a square frame for  the past (1999), a widescreen standard for present (2014) and anamorphic or scope for future (2025). It is the year 1999 in China, where young girl Tao is being courted by her best friends. Liangzi works as miner in a coal mining and he has no money, while Zhang is a gas station owner. She likes both of them, but she finally is decided for the one who has a “better future”.

In the second act, we go at present time (2014) where Tao is a divorced woman, with a son named Dollar (of course the name has a good reason for this story), who doesn’t have any contact with her. This period shows Tao’s father relationship. The third one takes us to west, to near future 2025, to Australia, place where Dollar lives without knowing his mature language, his roots and having a difficult relation with his father.

The director through all the story keeps emphasizing about the cost of decisions, the always hard cohabitation with death, the difficulties of human relationships and necessity of recognizing they are the best way of treasuring memories. Besides the song by Pet Shop Boys, another nostalgic song is filtering in some scenes. Zhang-Ke has explained the original title means “time will transform mountains and rivers, but our heart will remain the same”, by doing a clear reference for true friendships. In fact, in another lucid moment, one of the characters say: “Through life anyone can just getting along with everyone”.

Mountains May Depart is a long movie (a little over 2 hours) and goes from more to less because Chinese director is repetitive and his characters, who first are very real, are turning into a tale. Besides, story is becoming so obvious and as a result, we have a dense pace, and when future chapter comes the performances are not convincing as well as a love affair that doesn’t match into the story. However, the linguistic distances between father and son are a good  apocalyptic and capitalist  ideas about  new world order that pointing out director’s thesis about the loss of roots.

Cast and Crew

  • Director and Screenwriter: Jia Zhang-Ke
  • Running Time: 131 minutesCrew: Zhao Tao, Zhang Yi, Sylvia Chang, Liang Jingdong, Dong Zijian, Rong Zishan, Liang Yonghao, Liu Lu, Yuan Wenqian
  • Cinematography: Lik-Way Yu
  • Edition: Mattieu Laclau
  • Music: Yoshihiro Hanno
  • Country: China
  • Year: 2015

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