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    PHOTO: 7 Hot Films to Watch at Berlin Film Festival 2012

    The film opens on a vast plain of luscious wheat being harvested while three little boys, who will grow up over the course of the story, play mischievously. In school, the high moral standards of their ancient culture are drilled into them. Later in the film, the destruction of the ancestral temple of White Deer Plain will serve as a metaphor for the degradation of Chinese society as a whole.

    The brief first scenes are the last happy idyll before tragedy follows on the heels of tragedy. It begins when news reaches Jiaxuan, the head of the clan (played by the dignified Zhang Fengyi of Red Cliff and Farewell, My Concubine ) that the Emperor has fallen and chaos reigns in the city. Caught in the struggle between Communists and Nationalists, the poor, hungry, overtaxed farmers are at the mercy of ever-changing authorities who stage public beatings, beheadings and executions.

    In this uncertain political climate, Heiwa ( Duan Yihong ), the son of Jiaxuan’s loyal servant Lu San, goes to work for the rich old land-owner Master Guo. His youthful body and rebellious attitude attract the attention of Guo’s sexually frustrated youngest wife, Tian Xiao’e ( Zhang Yuqi .) Inviting the harvester into her bed, she is so careless in keeping their affair a secret that the lovers are discovered, publicly beaten and sent away in disgrace.

    Back home on White Deer Plain, the tradition-bound Jiaxuan denies the couple permission to marry in the ancestral temple. Heiwa and Xiao’e are forced to live as outcasts in a precarious cave dwelling, until Heiwa’s anger at the system finds a violent outlet in politics and the Communist party.

    The point of view changes an hour into the film as Xiao’e takes center stage. Young Yuqi has the riveting beauty of a Wong Kar-wai heroine and here, too, her sexual mores are constantly under scrutiny as she runs through an impressive series of men, mostly tragically Jiaxuan’s own son ( Cheng Taisheng ). Victim, devil or just a woman in love? Each man feels entitled to his own opinion, leaving the question uneasily open. Though visuals are tame by Western standards and nudity is quite limited, the language used in the seduction and rape scenes leaves little to the imagination in terms of exotic sexual practices. But this fits in with the earthy, at times humorous, dialogue used by the peasants.

    The final part of the film once again shifts point of view to follow the characters as they scatter and return to White Deer Plain, up to another tragic moment in Chinese history, the war with Japan begun in 1937.

    Though the whole cast is strong and efficient throughout and though there’s no shortage of action, the film is oddly devoid of emotional involvement. It seems to lack the screen time for narrative buildup, which a longer miniseries, for example, might have provided. As stirring as the actors are the magnificent landscapes of the vast rolling plain covered with a sea of wheat, photographed at sunrise and sunset and across the seasons by the director’s regular cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier .

    Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
    Cast: Zhang Fengyi, Zhang Yuqi, Wu Gang, Duan Yihong, Cheng Taisheng, Liu Wei, Guo Tao
    Production company: Bai Lu Yuan Film Company in association with Lightshades Film Productions, Xi’an Movie and Television Production, Western Film Group Corporation
    Director: Wang Quan'an
    Screenwriter: Wang Quan'an, based on a novel by Chen Zhongshi
    Producer: Zhang Xiaoke
    Executive producers: Sun Yi’an, Ma Rui, Xu Jianxuan, Xu Junqian
    Director of photography: Lutz Reitemeier
    Production design: Huo Tingxiao
    Editor: Wang Quan’an
    Music: Zhao Jiping
    Sales: Distribution Workshop (.)
    No rating, 178 minutes

    With all due respect to Christopher Nolan, no filmmaker has captured the evacuation of Dunkirk better than Joe Wright, who evoked the sheer scale of England’s finest hour via a five-minute tracking shot in “Atonement.” Now, with “Darkest Hour,” Wright returns to show the other side of the operation. Set during the crucial early days […]

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    review of the film

    Review of the film

    Directed by the wife-and-husband team of Valérie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj, “Polina” could provide some of that good . Russia sorely needs, even as Stalinist repression echoes... To Read the Full Story Subscribe Sign In Most Popular Videos

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    • CFPB Deputy Chief Sues Trump Over Agency Leadership
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    Popular on WSJ Most Popular Videos
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    Most Popular Articles
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    • AT&T-Justice Department Clash Puts Outspoken Judge Back in Spotlight
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    • Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Are Engaged
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    Directed by the wife-and-husband team of Valérie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj, “Polina” could provide some of that good . Russia sorely needs, even as Stalinist repression echoes... To Read the Full Story Subscribe Sign In Most Popular Videos

    • Inside Your TV: Why It Might Cost More Next Cyber Monday
    • Six Boring Tech Gifts Everyone Will Love
    • Basic Income: The Free Money Experiments | Moving Upstream
    • In the Elevator With GM CEO Mary Barra
    • This Week in Celebrity Homes: George Strait, Eva Longoria
    Most Popular Articles
    • CFPB Deputy Chief Sues Trump Over Agency Leadership
    • AT&T-Justice Department Clash Puts Outspoken Judge Back in Spotlight
    • The Six Laws of Technology Everyone Should Know
    • Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs
    • Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Are Engaged
    Popular on WSJ Most Popular Videos
    • Inside Your TV: Why It Might Cost More Next Cyber Monday
    • Six Boring Tech Gifts Everyone Will Love
    • Basic Income: The Free Money Experiments | Moving Upstream
    • In the Elevator With GM CEO Mary Barra
    • This Week in Celebrity Homes: George Strait, Eva Longoria
    Most Popular Articles
    • CFPB Deputy Chief Sues Trump Over Agency Leadership
    • AT&T-Justice Department Clash Puts Outspoken Judge Back in Spotlight
    • The Six Laws of Technology Everyone Should Know
    • Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs
    • Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Are Engaged
  • Wall Street Journal
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    • .
    • Asia
    • Europe
    • India
    • 中国 (China)
    • 日本 (Japan)
    • 中國 (China)
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    PHOTO: 7 Hot Films to Watch at Berlin Film Festival 2012

    The film opens on a vast plain of luscious wheat being harvested while three little boys, who will grow up over the course of the story, play mischievously. In school, the high moral standards of their ancient culture are drilled into them. Later in the film, the destruction of the ancestral temple of White Deer Plain will serve as a metaphor for the degradation of Chinese society as a whole.

    The brief first scenes are the last happy idyll before tragedy follows on the heels of tragedy. It begins when news reaches Jiaxuan, the head of the clan (played by the dignified Zhang Fengyi of Red Cliff and Farewell, My Concubine ) that the Emperor has fallen and chaos reigns in the city. Caught in the struggle between Communists and Nationalists, the poor, hungry, overtaxed farmers are at the mercy of ever-changing authorities who stage public beatings, beheadings and executions.

    In this uncertain political climate, Heiwa ( Duan Yihong ), the son of Jiaxuan’s loyal servant Lu San, goes to work for the rich old land-owner Master Guo. His youthful body and rebellious attitude attract the attention of Guo’s sexually frustrated youngest wife, Tian Xiao’e ( Zhang Yuqi .) Inviting the harvester into her bed, she is so careless in keeping their affair a secret that the lovers are discovered, publicly beaten and sent away in disgrace.

    Back home on White Deer Plain, the tradition-bound Jiaxuan denies the couple permission to marry in the ancestral temple. Heiwa and Xiao’e are forced to live as outcasts in a precarious cave dwelling, until Heiwa’s anger at the system finds a violent outlet in politics and the Communist party.

    The point of view changes an hour into the film as Xiao’e takes center stage. Young Yuqi has the riveting beauty of a Wong Kar-wai heroine and here, too, her sexual mores are constantly under scrutiny as she runs through an impressive series of men, mostly tragically Jiaxuan’s own son ( Cheng Taisheng ). Victim, devil or just a woman in love? Each man feels entitled to his own opinion, leaving the question uneasily open. Though visuals are tame by Western standards and nudity is quite limited, the language used in the seduction and rape scenes leaves little to the imagination in terms of exotic sexual practices. But this fits in with the earthy, at times humorous, dialogue used by the peasants.

    The final part of the film once again shifts point of view to follow the characters as they scatter and return to White Deer Plain, up to another tragic moment in Chinese history, the war with Japan begun in 1937.

    Though the whole cast is strong and efficient throughout and though there’s no shortage of action, the film is oddly devoid of emotional involvement. It seems to lack the screen time for narrative buildup, which a longer miniseries, for example, might have provided. As stirring as the actors are the magnificent landscapes of the vast rolling plain covered with a sea of wheat, photographed at sunrise and sunset and across the seasons by the director’s regular cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier .

    Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
    Cast: Zhang Fengyi, Zhang Yuqi, Wu Gang, Duan Yihong, Cheng Taisheng, Liu Wei, Guo Tao
    Production company: Bai Lu Yuan Film Company in association with Lightshades Film Productions, Xi’an Movie and Television Production, Western Film Group Corporation
    Director: Wang Quan'an
    Screenwriter: Wang Quan'an, based on a novel by Chen Zhongshi
    Producer: Zhang Xiaoke
    Executive producers: Sun Yi’an, Ma Rui, Xu Jianxuan, Xu Junqian
    Director of photography: Lutz Reitemeier
    Production design: Huo Tingxiao
    Editor: Wang Quan’an
    Music: Zhao Jiping
    Sales: Distribution Workshop (.)
    No rating, 178 minutes

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