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    South of the Clouds

    Southern exposure

    Noteworthy Chinese filmmaker Zhu Wen explores his country's remote southern region with "South of the Clouds."


    (Reviewed at the Hawaii International Film Festival in November 2004.)

    With "Clean," which opened the 2004 Hawaii International Film Festival, Olivier Assayas attempted to expand the French New Wave aesthetic into a post-national road-trip of a film. Zhu Wen, by contrast, so successfully transposes to China the Antoine Doinel films' geographic specificity, and their simultaneously affectionate and detached approach to character, that his "South of the Clouds" seems a far more legitimate successor to Truffaut's work. The comparison between Zhu Wen and Truffaut is explicitly validated with the film's last shot, a direct visual quote of final freeze-frame close-up from "The 400 Blows." To dwell any further on this point, though, would be a disservice to the culturally specific and aesthetically meditative story of "South of the Clouds."

    Original title: 雲的南方.
    Written and directed by: Zhu Wen.
    Cast: Li Xue Jian, Jin Zi.
    Cinematography: Wang Min.
    In Chinese with English subtitles.
    Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam (212) 875-5600 Thu March 31 at 8:30pm Museum of Modern Art 53rd St. (between 5th and 6th Ave.) (212) 708-9400 Sat April 2 at 3:15pm

    Hawaii Film Festival 2004
    • Overview

    • Baytong
    • Clean
    • In the Realm of the Unreal
    • South of the Clouds
      • Steamboy
    • Take Out
    • Tarnation

    • Official site
    New Directors / New Films 2005
    • Overview
    • The Hero
    • Private
    • South of the Clouds
    • Official site
    Xu Da Qin, an aging widower with grown but not entirely independent children, is taking a vacation to the remote Yunnan province. The first half of the film, while introducing us to his life and his family, also makes it clear that there is some hidden and deeply personal reason for this trip, and that no matter how many people talk of more "sensible" vacation choices, various reasons to postpone the trip, etc., he is determined to make this journey. Most of all, there is the sense that he has been waiting for a long time to see Yunnan.

    Once he sets off, the narrative takes a notable turn towards the surreal. Dream sequences become difficult to distinguish from reality. Conversations are cryptic, formally polite but weighted with mysterious meaning. The camera dwells on faces and landscapes for just a second or two longer than feels "natural." Little by little, we are allowed hints of insights into the reason for this pilgrimage, and along the way we are exposed to meditations on gender, generation gaps and mysticism that never quite coalesce but are fascinating nonetheless.

    South of the Clouds  
    "South of the Clouds" is aided by Li Xue Jian's subtle portrayal of the protagonist and by Wang Min's extraordinary cinematography of the landscapes of southern China. There's no question, though, that novelist/poet turned filmmaker Zhu Wen is operating in auteur mode here, another connection to the nouvelle vague. His film has won a number of awards over the past year, including the Jin Jue Award at the Shanghai Film Festival and the Fipresci International Critics Prize at the Hong Kong Film Festival. Unlike his directorial debut, "Seafood," Zhu Wen's "South of the Clouds" is officially sanctioned by China's Film Bureau, but doesn't seem to have suffered from any restrictions or censorship that may have been imposed. It is a significant achievement by a distinctive emerging filmmaker, and marks the director as an artist to watch.

    NOVEMBER 9, 2004

    Reader comments on South of the Clouds:

  • Zhu Wen-a talented filmmaker   from Lalit Rao, Oct 13, 2005
  • South of the Clouds   from Carina, Mar 21, 2008

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