Sunday, July 13, 2008

Losers in Beijing

Those who are unable to join President George W. Bush at the Olympics in Beijing might console themselves with a film that will probably be worth its weight in Olympic Gold, and more than that long after these games are forgotten. See Lost in Beijing and let me know if it doesn't offer more China than you'll ever get from NBC and its multi-tiered affiliates.

The plot involves the mutually assured destruction of two marriages, two claims to paternity, several assertions of mastery (boss, husband, player, trickster) executed with geometric exactitude. Everybody loses as the lives of families unravel along with the city and the larger entity in which it once meant something.

Pieces of the city get sort of not seen by a casual, target-less, restless, jerky camera. It displaces or maybe un-emplaces. You get the piece of something without the foundation shot that sets it within a graspable context. The piece is usually nothing worth seeing, It's more like what you ignore before you get to what you mean to see, which is pushed out. It's a bullying sort of unscenery.

Bullying is big in this film. So is Sino-tchatchke. Characters keep looking for something that keeps not being there. A woman is raped by her boss, the rape is witnessed by her husband, the rapist dreams of finally becoming a father, he ends up paying his cuckhold for the privilege of sham paternity, wives subvert partners and get their deals in writing. They stumble through festoons of hopeless banners, wall hangings, and objets d'art. As the opening scene tells us, you are in for trouble when you hire a prostitute and then feel cheated when she's not carrying a torch. For you.

The film bears traces of censor bullies - 53 of them - which could account for that jerky sense of the camera's not quite being able to see what it's trying to shoot, or shoot what it's trying to see. But I think that's serendipitous -- the censor doing to the film what the film shows China doing to itself. What a rich, mindful, distracted gaze it offers.

For their pains, the film's producers are barred from working for two years.

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