The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Platform (2000/China/dir. Jia Zhangke) appeared at #87 on my original list.
What it is • When the film begins in 1979, the characters are all part of a traveling performance group. They dress similarly in baggy tunics and shapeless slacks, and their songs are all revolutionary odes to the wonders of the recently-deceased Chairman Mao. Their hometown of Fenyang is shown in wintry isolation, a rural hamlet in the middle of nowhere characterized by barren streets and homes with few modern amenities. Parents, police, and the elder troop leader scold these restless young performers when they step out of line and portraits of Lenin and Stalin adorn the walls of theaters whose most risque offerings are thirty-year-old Indian entertainments. When the film ends in 1990, the characters have split off from one another: some finally settle down after years on the road, others disappear from the town and/or narrative without explanation. The performance group, last we see of it anyway, has turned into a mixture of rock guitarists and go-go dancers. Fenyang is under constant construction and televisions play soap operas while tape players boom pop songs from every household; when we visit a movie theater near the end of the film, it's showing animated sex. The older generation is absent either literally (one character's father opens a shop and sleeps there with a mistress, never returning home) or figuratively. We experience these incremental changes as circumstantial details, just as the characters would: background color to a love affair, diversion during a long tedious drive through the desert, decoration to a scene of domestic dissolution. There isn't exactly a "story" here. Instead the film unfolds like life, with long takes (there is almost no cutting within scenes and the camera tends to stand still) capturing individual incidents, sometimes years apart, which coalesce to form an overpowering whole. Personal and cultural history intertwine into a palpable experience that can only be felt, rather than than explained.
Why I like it •