What to rent: The World

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In which film savant Iggy Cortez indulges a distaste for linear narrative.

the worldChinese director Jia Zhangke’s fourth film The World is set almost entirely in the Beijing World Park, an Epcot-like expanse filled with unconvincing counterfeits of famous landmarks. The irony is almost unbearably biting for the park’s many workers – they can stroll from The Eiffel Tower to the Sphinx in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, but have close to zero actual mobility. Most of the workers moved to the city from impoverished provinces, while the rest are Russian dancers who have their passports confiscated upon their arrival. Jia’s captivating film, both weirdly focused and meandering, traces the harsh realism and occasional optimism of lives going nowhere fast.

Jia has structured the film as a winding series of disconnected, arbitrary episodes almost like short narratives in their own right, the best of which are immediate but wordless in imparting their importance. A botched attempt at sex between the film’s protagonist, Tao, and her boyfriend gives us all the necessary insight to their messy relationship, while the scenes involving Tao’s friendship with Anna, one of the Russian dancers, despite their language barrier, manage to eclipse the film’s overall sadness.  

Like most of Jia’s movies, The World is clearly about the illusion of possibility in an increasingly globalized world, but thankfully it never comes across as needlessly preachy or apocalyptic.  Using understated film techniques alongside bizarre acid-trip animations and MTV-style visual overload, The World has a strange but winning after-effect that is part magic, part alienation.


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