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The Blue Kite

Posted by martinteller on October 5, 2013

Tietou (Yi Tian, Zhang Wenyao and Chen Xiaoman, at different ages) was born at a tumultuous time in a small village in China.  When his father Shaolong (Pu Cunxin) is taken away during the “Recertification Movement” and eventually killed, his mother Shujuan (Lu Liping) remarries… and again tragedy strikes.  Over the years, Shujuan and Tietou strive to navigate through politically turbulent waters, rolling with the punches and clinging to what happiness they can find.

This film came out right around the same time as two similar epics about the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution from other “Fifth Generation” directors, Zhang Yimou’s To Live and Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (and also “Sixth Generation” Jiang Wen’s In the Heat of the Sun, which is markedly different in tone).  All three look at the cultural and political changes from the perspective of a small cast of characters in anecdotes spanning several decades.

As such, Tian’s film feels a bit familiar… but is just as accomplished as Zhang’s or Chen’s.  In fact, this might be the visually stimulating of the three, with gorgeous use of soft lighting and striking colors.  Lu Liping gives a particularly strong performance, never letting her suffering overwhelm the character.  She does not lament her situation as much as she puts up a brave — if sometimes lost — face against it.

The movie’s narrative is at times a bit disorienting, with characters whose roles aren’t always entirely clear.  The apparently loose use of the word “uncle”, for example, can cause confusion.  But even when one isn’t totally sure what’s going on, there are lovely moments of both human drama and cultural specificity to engage with.  Tian’s approach is less meditative than his earlier The Horse Thief, but he gets closer to the emotional core, and makes a pointed statement.  The political criticism is sharp enough to have gotten the film banned in its home country.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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