Workers in blue canvas stand on either side of a mine shaft, the flashlights on their helmets pointing to the viewer. Everything is motionless until the chain between the tracks leading down the mine begins to move with a deep, rattling, monotonous, sustained and strangely soothing sound.
This is the opening scene of Xiaoshuai Wangs Chinese Portrait, which premiered as a documentary at the Busan International Film Festival in October. The movie has no plot and no dialogue. The material has previously been shown as an art installation where the portraits are blown up on four walls with the viewer placed in the center of the room, but have now been edited to an 80 minute format in a quirky but breathtaking form of documentary.
Through Wang's camera brush, the audience meets people, material structures and landscapes in China's cities and rural areas. A family of five eats a meal in a narrow courtyard, two men chatting with each other, a child playing around the table, while a woman and an old lady look silently directly into the camera, as many of the portraits of human subjects do.
A Changing China
In another scene, a man sits on a concrete block – neatly, with a straight back – with a welcoming, slightly insecure smile while the camera paints his portrait. His yellow helmet matches the yellow gravko that works. . .