Directed by Jia Zhangke
Country: China / others
The story behind “Mountain May Depart”, the well-structured drama from the celebrated Chinese filmmaker, Jia Zhangke, is divided into three interconnected parts representing the past, present, and future.
Whoever isn’t familiar with the director’s previous works may be misled by the inaugural joyful tones of the film, which almost forces us to think of the word comedy. Yes, the film successfully extracts some laughs either, but is the dramatic side, together with a critical look at the society, that better characterize Mr. Zhangke’s films.
The first segment, set in 1999 Fenyang, starts at the sound of ‘Go West’ by The Pet Shop Boys. A bunch of people is having fun in the course of a rhythmic choreography, and among them, we spot the main character, Tao (Tao Zhao), who often hangs out with her two best friends and suitors, Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and Zhang Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). While the former is a modest local coal miner who lacks ambition and leads an honest life, the latter is a boastful new rich who's among those who thrived due to the capitalism expansion in China. The two competitors have a few squabbles over Tao, who ends up choosing Jinsheng, not without difficulty and carrying a sense of loss in her heart. While the fresh couple makes all the arrangements for the marriage, Liangzi resolves to leave Fenyang city for good.
The story then shifts to 2014, and we see Liangzi, now a married man and father, returning to his hometown with lung cancer, a consequence of many years breathing the coal mines' pestilent air. On the other hand, Tao is divorced and grieves the death of her father, whose funeral triggers the visit of her estranged 7-year-old son, now called Dollar (an obvious homage to capitalism), who arrives from Shanghai to pay his respects to granddad.
The last segment, not so strong as the first two, transports us to 2025 Australia, where the aimless Dollar simply can’t communicate (a language gap) with his whimsical, messy father, and embarks in a relationship with his much older Chinese teacher who tries to regain some balance after a distressing divorce. Both feel misplaced and want to get in touch with their roots, a step that is manifestly more complicated than it seems.
Seamlessly alternating between ironic and cerebral, the film doesn’t match its predecessor, “A Touch of Sin”, in terms of immediacy, but Zhangke’s hand is still clearly perceptible – desolated landscapes, complex feelings, and a sense of emotional void. Like in the beginning, the film ends with Tao dancing ‘Go West’, but this time, the circumstances are entirely different.