At once an intimate drama and a decade-spanning epic, the new film from master filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin, The World) jumps from the recent past to the speculative near-future as it examines how China’s economic boom has affected the bonds of family, tradition, and love.
Mountains May Depart opens in 1999 to the strains of the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West, a song whose promise of blue skies captures the dreams of affluence that seized so many Chinese youth at the turn of the century. And it is to the West that small-town dance instructor Shen Tao (Zhao Tao, Shun Li and the Poet) looks when she spurns the shy, introverted labourer Liangzi (Liang Jindong) to marry the slick entrepreneur Zhang (Zhang Yi). The couple soon welcomes a son, whom Zhang names Dollar. The chasm between the family’s origins and their new life of Western-style wealth grows ever wider as the film leaps ahead to 2014 and finally to 2025, when Dollar (Zijian Dong) is living in Australia and struggling to relearn the mother tongue he has forgotten with the help of an attractive, older college professor (Sylvia Chang, The Red Violin, Eat Drink Man Woman) who embodies the culture, life, and love he has never truly known.
Shooting each of the film’s three time periods in a different aspect ratio—with the square Academy frame gradually expanding to widescreen—Jia creates a prescient chronicle of his country’s path to the future. Lyrical, moving, and dazzlingly ambitious, Mountains May Depart is one of the year’s most important films.
“Its generation-spanning story has serious power, and, in its masterful opening chapter and final sequence, brushes against greatness.” (Robbie Collin, The Telegraph)
“Whatever Jia shows us and wherever he takes us, we’re always aware of being in the hands of one of the contemporary world’s great filmmakers.” (Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com)
“Jia Zhang-ke’s Mountains May Depart is a mysterious and in its way staggeringly ambitious piece of work from a film-maker whose creativity is evolving before our eyes.” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)