Documentaries for me are hard to discuss in a critical fashion. After all, there are no actors, no script of a traditional sense and there isn’t always a score. The cinematography, the director and their vision is all you can talk about a lot of the time. This is very much the case with Chinese Portrait a documentary showcasing the people and places within the country of China.
Director Xiaoshuai Wang has chosen a unique directorial action to showcase the people of China. Chinese Portrait is a film with no dialogue, narrative or traditional structure. It’s a fascinating choice to make. The reason being Xiaoshuai Wang is giving his audience a lot of respect. To watch this film and to make their own minds up during the course of this 79-minute film.
With a brushstroke, the Chinese Portrait begins
Chinese Portrait cuts to people across China. Showing the diversity within the country. The various locales, peoples and the one place they represent. The choice to make this film essentially a gallery of semi-static imagery is bold.
I’m not sure the reasoning perhaps it’s an artistic experiment. Instead of paint on canvas or photography director Xiaoshuai Wang has chosen 35 mm film.
What was it all for?
During the film and afterwards I wondered what went into the editing process of the film. What did the team choose to leave in and what was left on the cutting room floor? A particular scene struck me involving a lone man standing near what looks like a village. Likely this village is where he grew up and though there was no dialogue his face told a story that I wanted to know about.
Many of the scenes in Chinese Portrait are given with no context so the film invites you to research and learn what they mean. This to me is the ultimate success of a documentary.
A picture paints a thousand words
The cinematography of Chinese Portrait is (pardon the pun) picturesque. An alleyway in a scene has a handful of people within it and it feels quaint and warm.
There are also scenes depicting the stark differences in modern China right next to their deeply ingrained heritage and past. How Xiaoshuai Wang sets up these scenes with the modern and the ancient is quite beautiful giving an ethereal air to the scenery of China.
Chinese Portrait is a fascinating experiment. It’s another celebration of the people of China and pairs nicely with the other East Asia Film Festival Ireland documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue.
I’m not sure it will be for everyone but it is definitely something to check out. After all, it is a 79-minute film with no characters, no narrative or even dialogue and that might not be picture perfect for everyone. But that’s art, everyone has their own tastes.
Stay tuned to Scannain and let us know how much you’re enjoying the East Asia Film Festival Ireland.