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Chinese masterpiece wows Berlin and reveals: the rushed modernisation of China can be elegantly dirty and oddly fascinating

Blue is the colour of peace and also the colour of sadness. Chinese film Crosscurrent, which premiered on February 15th at the Berlin Film Festival is overwhelmingly blue, in both the connotative and the denotative sense of the word. Everything in the movie is warmly wrapped in this strangely crisp colour. Various shades of the colour from the persistent twilight, a boat’s spotlight or the vivid waters of the river Yangtze illuminate the way. The film is strangely slow, somber and melancholic, just like the colour blue.

Crosscurrent tells the story of young captain Gao Chun (Qin Hao), who steers his boat overloaded with fish up the Yangtze river. He is been in charge of delivering the commercial cargo in exchange for for a reasonable sum of money. Along his journey, he meets the magic figure of a woman over and over, and she seems to become younger the closer he gets to the source of the river. He also encounters an eerie landscape almost invariably misty, abandoned and derelict. It is not clear whether the fog is natural or a byproduct of pollution. He visits abandoned houses, temples and even a city that was swallowed by the waters of the Yangtze, only to be returned to its population barren and covered in mud.

Chun’s overloaded boat travelling contraflow is an allegory of capitalistic development in China. The country is growing quicker than it can take, and it is moving in a direction away from its history, towards rushed, ugly and dirty industrialisation. As Chun passes the Three Gorges Dam, we are gently reminded that man-made wonders can often overtake nature in a bizarre and irreversible way.

The search for the woman is equivalent to the search for Chinese history and identity, which becomes increasingly diluted and less recognisable as the waters of the Yangtze inundate the country, stripping it from its beautiful past and poetry.

The cinematography of Crosscurrent is breathtaking, just like the pollution that is taking over China. It is also one of the most beautiful and spectacular films in the history of cinema, a true masterpiece. Each take in the film is carefully balanced and crafted, like a Michelangelo painting. The blue fog gives it an ethereal quality, almost detached from reality, not dissimilar to Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979). The Russian masterpiece was filmed in just a few days in two deserted hydro power plants on the Jägala river in the countryside of the former Soviet Republic of Estonia.

Crosscurrent is not the first film to present rushed development in the Yangtze River and the The Gorges Dam in a lyrical and visually stunning way. Jia Zhangke made a comparable achievement in 2006 with Still Life, albeit not as impressive.

Despite its nostalgic and stoic tone, Crosscurrent is a film about reconciliation with irreversible changes. Upon reaching the source of the Yangtze, Chun realises that time cannot be turned around. There is no doubt that the new Yangtze is oddly fascinating – perhaps because it is so dirty, precarious and nostalgic.

Chao’s film is a very strong contender for the Golden Bear, which would make it the third Chinese film to do so in less than 10 years. The others were Tuya’s Marriage (Wang Quan’an, 2007) and Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao Yinan, 2014). DMovies is present and the 66th Berlinale right now bringing the dirtiest movies from the Festival. The winners will be announced on Saturday, February 20th,

By Victor Fraga - 15-02-2016

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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