Mountains May Depart
MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART, drama, not rated, in Mandarin with subtitles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles
Mountains May Depart has a panoramic view of life: The film starts in 1999 and flashes forward twice — to 2014 and then to 2025. The story begins with the ritual of courtship; two men in their mid-twenties try variously to woo a friend, Tao (Zhao Tao). Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong) works in a coal mine, whereas Jinsheng (Zhang Yi) has just bought a coal mine. Tao is a sensitive and carefree young woman who likes to sing during New Year’s celebrations — the film opens with a lion dance. A little later, the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Go West,” with its promise of being “together,” reflects not only the ebullience of youth, but also China’s promise at the turn of the millennium. The film was written and directed by Jia Zhangke, who is regarded as a key figure in Chinese cinema’s “Sixth Generation,” which began as a post-Tiananmen Square underground film movement.
Tao chooses Jinsheng, the guy with the money, though we suspect she might have been happier with Liangzi. Jinsheng is so much the entrepreneur and the embodiment of materialistic China that he names their son “Dollar.” Heartbroken by Tao’s choice, Liangzi moves to a different town and finds another mining job.
The first half of the film gives us fresh images of China, such as a riverside the friends drive to and the coal mine where Liangzi works, from which he develops health problems. In the somewhat rickety last third of the film, which follows Dollar’s life with his father in Australia, there are parallel water visuals, this time of the ocean, but water doesn’t have the grounding effect it did earlier. Now the waves seem to reinforce how unmoored the characters are, how far they are from home.
Zhao Tao, who is married to director Jia Zhangke, plays Tao elegantly, at age twenty-five, in her early forties, and finally in her early fifties. Tao’s character retains her sense of dignity and humor throughout life’s travails. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Zhangke said that when Tao’s father passes away in the film, he had meant for Tao to arrange for the funeral in a stoic way, to reflect the “Eastern film aesthetic.” However, the actress suggested that Tao would have a stronger emotional outburst upon losing her father, with whom she had an intimate relationship. “It’s a completely different female perspective on how to deal with someone’s passing, and different from how I would deal with it,” Zhangke told the
Times. He decided to go with the emotional outburst, which dramatically widens the range of Tao’s performance. Though the last third of the film follows her son, Tao is the story’s real heroine, and fittingly, the film ends with her. At this point, the Pet Shop Boys come through again with “Go West,” providing a happy marriage of character revelation and tone that closes this highly relatable film. — Priyanka Kumar
Driving the point home: Zhang Yi and Zhao Tao