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The World

Gestalt

The other night, Puravida and I watched The World. It’s one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while — in all honesty I am only half-interested in film recently — and I particularly enjoyed its very detached cinematography and pacing. Through its entire length the film moves lethargically, ponderously, deliberately: there is nothing here that is overtly poppy or flashy, nothing to ease the passage of time. I found it to be a welcome change from what I am used, since even our — I mean, the mainstream in the States — most detached movies seem to scintillate from their corners even as they sell themselves as cold, indifferent, and thoughtful (a partial exception to this might be Michael Clayton, another movie I saw recently and liked, but which is only partially ponderous). It’s odd that an aesthetic of dullness would be compelling. But it was.

The World is the story of a couple who work at theme park (for which the movie is named) in Beijing. Watching their story unfold we introduced to a cast of characters, most of whom are poor. Poverty dominates the film, but not in the typical way, or not in the horrible, terrifying, imagistic way that it usually operates in cinema. Poverty isn’t made into a character that speaks, but it is implicit in the actions of the characters, it inflects their choices, from choosing to work at the World theme park in the first place to deciding to work double shifts at night when the pay is higher, to sleeping with the stage director to get a promotion. Seemingly every character in the film has been uprooted and transplanted, and each seems to have an abandoned family they cannot visit for money or shame. None of this is raised to the focus: it’s all subtext, conveyed in asides or pregnant pauses, which, together with the film’s pacing, make for a rather oblique portrayal of the discomforts of work-a-day poverty and the struggles faced by people trying not to succumb to the brute machinations of the world in which they find themselves.

And of course there’s the fact that all of this is ripely juxtaposed with the images of the World: there’s France, Egypt, America, and everything else rendered in Disney-esque miniature — the theme park boasts “if you give us a day we’ll show you the world” — and it all appears vaguely ludicrous considered against the kid who’s stealing from his coworkers (we don’t learn why, it’s not important) and the other quotidian concerns of the park’s employees.

Categories: Reviews.

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6 Responses

  1. (watching a plane fly overhead)
    “Who flies on those?”
    “I don’t know anyone who has ever been on a plane.”

    That was one of the best lines in my opinion. I would have said the film was shot in real time, except for the animated sequences that were used to move time and change place, and that the style was not one of dullness but rather documentary. If we had not known it was “actors” would we have been able to tell?

    I was going to write about the experience of watching the film and how it made me realize how much we depend on what we know to place what we see. The movie was strangely out of place to all my own experience in almost every way, even to other films I have seen about places I have never been. That was perhaps the most compelling thing about it for me. I had to discard all my ideas about “movies” to understand that I was in fact watching one.

  2. Yes, the film was very different. “Dullness” could almost be “strangeness,” I suppose. And the immersion of the camera into the action was also pretty seamless — that was interesting as well. And the lack of close-ups, etc. There was also a certain jumpiness to the movement from scene to scene. It wasn’t ever really clear how much narrative time had gone by: how long was the film supposed to represent? A week? Six months? It’s hard to make a tenable judgment. At the very least the seasons have changed.

  3. ok ok, i just moved it to the top of the queue in netflix better be good…

  4. Let me know what you think. I make no promises here — only hasty generalizations.

  5. This film sounds great. It has everything I like in pregnant-pause films: social consciousness, a seemingly myopic character web, and metaphors everywhere. I love metaphors everywhere because then I can make all sorts of connections without having to justify it too much. For example, do you think that the World Theme Park is just a cover for the 2008 Olympic Games?

    I saw a really good film last month, “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” — I think you’d like that too. It’s set in Romania and is so pregnant you wouldn’t believe it. Also, while we’re on units of count, the Russian film “4” was very good and pregnant too.

  6. I’ll add those to my netflicks queue.

    The World themepark could be seen as that, sure; I think it’s better seen as a metaphor for the conditions of China’s entrance into “globalization,” the operation of the Market, etc. The director has some strong anticapitalist sympathies, it seems. He dislikes money.



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