antonioni in china

Having made some of the most striking films of the new wave in L’Avventura, then setting The Yardbirds on fire in Blow Up, filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni then took off for China to document the revolution in Chung Kuo – Cina. Despite having the blessing of the communist party, the film was banned and has not been officially screened in China until now. The Globe and Mail look at the screening and the audience reaction, and EastSouthWestNorth has an excellent essay by Susan Sontag on the Chinese press’ attacks after it’s release.

Chung Kuo bears all the marks of Mr. Antonioni’s distinctively oblique style, the same enigmatic approach that caused such controversy in the cinema world when L’Avventura was released in 1960. The film contains not a single interview and not a single sentence of political analysis. The filmmaker deliberately rejected the conventions of script or story.

“I went to China not in order to know it but to have a look and to record what was passing in front of my eyes,” he said later.

The film succeeds as an artistic work and as a portrait of ordinary life in an isolated country. With his customary detached tone and extremely long takes, the camera gazes at the Chinese people, their faces and movements. Long scenes pass without a word beyond the hubbub of background conversation and the sound of bicycle bells and street noise.