Uncovering the life and works of Jia Zhangke in his home city, Walter Salles’ A Guy From Fenyang reveals the metropolis behind the man.
The Shanxi Diariesby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After On The Road and several documentary shorts, Walter Salles enters the world of documentary filmmaking proper with a bio-doc of Chinese director Jia Zhangke. Charting the cinematography of the Chinese director whose films have only recently enjoyed exhibition in Chinese cinemas, Walter Salles returns to Jia Zhangke’s home in Fenyang in the province of Shanxi, northern China. The locus for many of the director’s films from Pick Pocket, including Platform, 24 City and most recently, Mountains May Depart (also showing at the London Film Festival), Fenyang becomes the backdrop for a series of interviews with Jia Zhangke and his leading lights Hongwei Wang and Tao Zhao, as the director explores the old courtyards and hutongs of the walled city, looking up relatives, neighbours and extras as he explores the locations of the films that made his name. It’s an enlightening documentary pulling together themes and recurring motifs from Jia Zhangke’s films, forming a handy guide to the director’s oeuvre as well as a history of changing attitudes in China from the Cultural Revolution and before to the present-day market economy. Beautifully lensed by Inti Briones and eliciting the best from his thoughtful subject, Walter Salles’ A Guy From Fenyang is a sensitive portrait of a quiet revolutionary.
A Guy From Fenyang is now showing at the London Film Festival