Fengjie County, which lies along the Yangtze River in China, is flood-prone. To stem the deluges, the region has made way for the Three Gorges Dam, an epic, troublesome, nearly biblical undertaking that began in the mid-1990s and won’t be done anytime soon. The Big Dig seems like an afternoon gardening project by comparison.
All over the county, buildings have been demolished into concrete mountains and the million or so people who lived in them are being gradually relocated to a higher altitude. “Still Life,” which won the top prize at 2006’s Venice Film Festival, climbs along the debris, sails along the river, and, in a series of barren rooms, carves out a story. The drama at its center is an elemental search: man looks for woman. Jia’s narrative approach prizes ambiguity, but it bears out. What seems uncertain attains solidity and then dramatic form, like metal filaments gathering around an unexpected magnetized surface until some arresting image takes shape.