Distracted from distraction

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There's a fine comment from T 8 Eliot when he talks about being ‘distracted from distraction by distraction‘. It could almost be the motto for Jia Platform Zhang-ke’s latest film. This sense of distractedness is partly characterisational - as the director says of his youthful, unemployed teenage characters: ‘They lack discipline. They don’t have any goals for the future. They refuse all constraints. But their spirit is not free.’ l-lere, Bin Bin and Xiao Ji wander around aimlessly as Bin Bin considers trying to get into the army, and Xiao Ji falls in love with a dancer model attached to a thuggish older guy.

But the sense of distraction is also there in Jia Zhang-ke‘s aesthetic. There’s the constant presence of off-screen street sounds. and snippets of information from various TV sets and radios as the director captures the lazy emptiness of his characters’ lives: their body language. their cool attitude. their refusal to move towards meaning. This is unemployment, not simply as economic frustration. but a manifest posturing that comes out of such idleness. It‘s been there in French cinema for decades: In Pialat, Doillon and Akerman. Zhangke - like Zhang (Beijing Bastards) Yuan and Wang (The Days), Xiaoshuai - takes that tradition into Chinese cinema. Fascinating stuff. (Tony McKibbin)

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