Red Sorghum (China, 1987) Directed by Zhang Yimou


my long awaited intro to chinese cinema arrived on cue with the new year—watched i am not madame bovary (2017) in january; wong kar wai’s in the mood for love (1999) in february and just last week saw this most delicately entwined tale of village romance and ww2 soldiers being absolute pieces of shit. the story’s been told before but rarely with so self-assured a sensitivity for the intricacies of naïveté. i can hardly hold my breath, let alone endure the length of a period film that has adopted the tone of the period; the same intolerance can be levied against telling a simple story in a way that has no sympathies for simplicity—that is, in the american way.

it often requires the most multifaceted capacity for the subtlest nuances to be able to hold a simple story up to ones face, to look it in the eye and tell it as it is. how great the temptation must be, to dress it up this way and that, to dangle it tiltilatingly in front of every plot twist, to shine from it all manners of shimmering complexes—all for the sake of not being dismissed as simple. almost every american filmmaker of the last seventy years has lost, systematically, this talent for simplicity. this accusation was the first observation roger ebert (aka ‘the goatmentator’*) made when he reviewed red sorghum in 1989. visually, nothing is spared for the imagination, every possible hue of red is called to testify; and, at the present moment, i can’t say what i wouldn’t do for my first sip of the sorghum wine that is splashed and dribbled all over every other scene. films like these have a category all to themselves: those films landlocked to a geographic realm, believing as much in the natural reality around it as much as the story told within it. there is a consistent unflinching-ness throughout, through the hills of joy and troughs of despair, the characters square the camera with chin and chest, and the dialogue seems to originate from a place beyond the story, and extending to a world beyond the screen. 

i don’t yet have, to it’s maximum effect, that talent to speak critically about a film that doesn’t move me at a fundamental scale. a consequence of this deficiency is that i’ll all too quickly run out words when it’s a film that does just that—not that i’m in a hurry for a remedy as there’s not much we can ask from a film than for the speechless silence right after it ends. in this case long after it ends.

in summa summarum i give this film 4.2 barrels of sorghum wine out of 5.

*g.o.a.t. (greatest of all time) + commentator (critic) = goatmentator