6th Generation Chinese filmmaker Zhang Ming tackles modern loneliness and ennui with quiet artistry in this remarkable drama about a film crew trying to make a picture but becomes lost (in all senses of the word) in the process.
Dir. Zhang Ming
2018 | China | Drama | 110 mins | 2.35:1 | Mandarin
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Wang Xuebing, Qin Hailu, Liu Dan, Miya Muqi, Chloe Maayan
Plot: Four people go to remote mountains in Hubei province to survey exterior views for a new movie. They get lost in the mountain and have to face darkness and daze of themselves.
Awards: Nom. for SACD Prize – Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes)
International Sales: Loco Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener for Contemporary Asian Cinema Series screening)
You might wonder about the film’s title—like what does it really mean? Probably only director Zhang Ming would know, but it might have to do with the planet Pluto being so incredibly distant from us, consigned to the darkest reaches of our solar system.
As a character says, it takes 17 years for a spacecraft from Earth to reach Pluto. Whether that’s true or not is just a Google search away, but the ‘space talk’ pretty much sets up the context for this excellent film, which is about deep loneliness in this modern, alienating world.
Feelings of listlessness, of being in a dark place abound for several of the film’s key characters, who form part of a film crew looking to shoot scenes in the rural regions of China for their indie arthouse picture. They encounter physical trouble when they become lost in the process, having to trek from one village to another to seek food and shelter.
But each one of them is also ‘lost’ in their own world, unsure of what to do or where they will end up next. The director can’t seem to complete his script; the cinematographer appears to want to shoot whatever she wants; the producer is frustrated at the lack of financial and logistical support, while an aimless young assistant tags along in this arduous journey.
One of the lesser-known figures of the 6th Generation Chinese filmmakers, Zhang weaves a fascinating piece about individuals confronting themselves in the most uncomfortable of natural (if also scenic) locations.
As they move from one village to the next led by an elder guide with deep local connections, we also become privy to ethnographic details of rural villagers (shot on location) as they provide the crew with temporary respite—you know, a night’s stay with fresh bedding here, and a nice, hot meal there, which, if you will, feel like awkward ‘meetings’ and ‘partings’ between traditional and contemporary China.
The Pluto Moment doesn’t flaunt its artistry which it has in abundance, but its quiet, meditative style leads to a powerful final shot, which coupled with the use of music (the only time non-diegetic sound is employed) makes us feel the exact same feeling of ennui that the characters are suffering from. If nothing else, that is the film’s masterstroke.