(乡愁) Nostalgia (Xiang Chou)

Shu Haolun. China, 2006. Documentary, 70 minutes.
Mandarin w/ English subtitles.
—   Review by Tang Lanke  —   
nostalgia_street bannerOld houses, whole family living together, narrow alleys filled with chasing kids’ laughter, the smell of delicious food from neighbour’s houses, the grocery store selling cheap snacks on the street corner… Maybe it is because my hometown is also in the southeast of China that I saw my own childhood when I watched this film by Shu Haolun. For those who are forced to leave their hometown to travel, to go to university and to change themselves, this film can certainly stir their memory of what their home is (or was) like.

Many people have said this film is not a particularly remarkable piece of work, it is slow, easy going, casual and people have complained that there is no suspense: that everything is easy to understand at one glance. There is the simple introspection about urban commercialization. There are long, lingering shots of simple people, everyday activities, boring conversations.

In my opinion, these problems are not related to the director’s lack of camera skills or inadequacies in the script. When one compares other films directed by Shu Haolun with this one 《Nostalgia》 it is clear that this one is special in that the director himself appears in many of the scenes. Sometimes he was the director and sometimes he was the actor. So this film – maybe we cannot call it a film, but a documentary – is a quite private and personal memory. He simply wrote a diary into a video. This memory might not be created for everyone to watch, perhaps it is just for himself to safeguard for the time when he is too old to walk and talk and he can take out this film and weep. Maybe it is just for those who left their hometown many years ago, who now, after seeing this, will find themselves ringing their grandma living alone in their old house. It may also be for those currently longing for a simple life and questioning whether “old town reconstruction” is a good or bad thing. In my opinion, this documentary mainly expressed a kind of a memory (a memento mori): a critique reflecting on generational social change.

SHU HAOLUN / FOR NEWSWEEK JAPANThis documentary diary genre employs interview and reproduction. The diary is presented in the order of time. From the black and white photographs taken of Shu as a 1-year old baby to the fictional depiction of his early teens in an all-night cinema with his girlfriend. His interviews are more like a family talk with his relatives and neighbors. Through these conversations, a perception grows of the living conditions and psychology of ordinary people not knowing which way to go under commercial development and urban change. The black and white reproduction makes the old memory more dramatic combined with popular songs of 1980s.

I think Shu Haolun’s success lies in his familiarity with Dazhongli (in the Jingan district of Shanghai) and its residents; his familiarity with Shanghai and its urban changes. If he hadn’t lived here and only relied on hearsay and literary sources and news data, his documentary might seem like an empty shell without a soul. This documentary, on the other hand, provides the complex interpersonal and cultural context.

Watch clip:
YouTube: https://youtu.be/iT1o43_kR1Q
Tudou news story (with clip): http://www.tudou.com/v/uXheRG5kugw

 

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