Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (2019)

A poetic and quietly-resonating feature debut that is slow but never meandering, plus it features one of the year’s most extraordinary tracking shots.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Gu Xiaogang
2019 | China | Drama | 154 mins | 1.85:1 | Mandarin, Fuyang Dialect
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity

Cast: Qian Youfa, Wang Fengjuan, Zhang Renliang, Zhang Guoying, Sun Zhangjian, Sun Zhangwei
Plot: A story of four brothers, told across four seasons, with each facing crucial changes in their lives.
Awards: Nom. for Camera d’Or & Critics’ Week Grand Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Filmgarde Bugis+ (Singapore International Film Festival 2019)
Spoilers: No

This is one of 2019’s most exciting discoveries for me.  Directed by Gu Xiaogang, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains is the first film of a planned trilogy revolving around the lives of people residing in a Chinese town situated along a river. 

According to Gu, who was present for a post-screening dialogue, the subsequent films will be shot at various points further along the same river. 

Very particular in its capture of physical geography—and across time, in this case, the four seasons—Gu’s film is a marvel to look at with poetic cinematography shot in the style of Chinese scroll paintings. 

Highly-controlled shots take their time to unravel naturally, so much so that their organicity take precedence in the form of fluid human conversations vis-à-vis the geographical terrain these characters are in. 

Perhaps the best example of Gu’s ebb-and-flow style of filmmaking comes in an extraordinary ten-minute long tracking shot of a young man and woman experiencing the fleeting emotions of first love. 

Although Dwelling can be slow for the uninitiated, it is never meandering.  There is a sense of assuredness to the filmmaking, despite being a feature debut, and its deliberate pace allows us the time to appreciate the beauty of a city slowly changing in the face of modernity. 

Its scenic wide shots are quietly-resonating, and so is the heartfelt drama, with the film focusing on the interlocking lives of four brothers and their families, warts and all.  I look forward to seeing more from this emerging director with a strong vision.

Grade: A-


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