Peacock (Screen Daily) review

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Peacock (Screen Daily) review

Postby dleedlee » Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:14 pm

Peacock (Kong Que)
Lee Marshall in Berlin
21 February 2005

Dir: Gu Changwei China. 2005. 161mins.

If further proof were needed of the technical and emotional maturity of the New Chinese cinema, then Peacock supplies it. The story of three siblings in a provincial Chinese town at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, this sensitive, deceptively simple film takes a while to establish its authority, but patient audiences will warm to the story and its three young protagonists.

With Zhang Yimou’s recent output one occasionally feels that not much lies beneath the dazzling surface, but here the opposite is true: cinematographer turned first-time director Wei (who studied with Zhang and Chen Kaige at the Beijing Film Academy) exalts the ordinary, and shows that there is much more to everyday problems and supposedly “normal” families than meets the eye.

Lighter and more graceful than its running time of two hours and forty minutes would suggest, Peacock should break out of the festival circuit to reach discerning arthouse viewers in selected territories.

Sales are currently being handled by production company Asian Union, but after the film picked up the Silver Bear (Jury Grand Prix) award at the Berlinale, it would not be a surprise to see an international distribution deal inked with a more experienced player.

Scriptwriter Li Qiang hails from Anyang, a small town in Huang province, which also provided the locations for the film. The introductory shot and its accompanying voice-over roots us in the everyday: a family of five are huddled around a small table on the porch outside their apartment, eating rice. The time is around 1978, two years after Mao’s death, when the first stirrings of economic liberalisation were being felt. But politics – in the macro sense of the term – hardly touch the lives of the three siblings at the centre of this gentle, picaresque domestic history.

Paratroopers drop out of the sky merely to fuel the dreamy romantic fantasies of Weihong (Zhang Jingchu), the pretty pig-tailed sister, and when she eventually marries the driver of a local bureau chief, what matters is not so much the fact that she is about to become the wife of a party worker as the fact that the impetuous, girlish dreamer has finally given up her illusions, and even seems to be punishing herself by choosing an older man with not a grain of charisma in him.

Though time pointers are thin on the ground, the action appears to span six or seven years. We follow the sister in the first part, seeing the story from her point of view – though the camera itself is not subjective, filming from outside in classically-framed and lit shots, with few close-ups. This rather formal technique, and the measured rhythm of the film, sets up a dialogue of reserve and respect between viewer and subject, suggesting depths without diving into them.

Peacock takes its time, charting Weihong’s journey through disillusionment to some sort of self-awareness, then looping back to follow her elder brother, the obese and not-quite-there Weiguo (Feng Li), then dipping back once more to follow younger brother Weiqiang (Lu Yulai), a wiry adolescent who is tormented by the embarrassment of having a handicapped brother and, we are allowed to infer, secretly in love with his sister.

In the end, Peacock is a film about survival and resilience; when the sister’s voice is heard saying “We’re all okay” at the end, it feels like some kind of victory.

Prod co: Asian Union Film & Media Co
Int’l sales: Wang Wei
Prods: Dong Ping, Gu Changwei
Scr: Li Qiang
Cine: Yang Shu
Prod des: Huang Xinmin, Cai Weidong
Eds: Liu Sha, Yan Tao
Music: Dou Peng
Main cast: Zhang Jingchu, Feng Li, Lu Yulai, Huang Meiying, Zhao Yiwei
饮水思源 Better to light a candle than curse the darkness; Measure twice, cut once. Check yourself...Punctuation.
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