ONCE UPON A TIME PROLETARIAN
This film started while I was preparing and shooting a fiction film – which at that time was called La Chinoise, and became She, a Chinese. As I kept looking at the main actress’s face and trying to make her beautiful, I started to feel an urge to shatter realities. I needed to film the dusty faces of the streets, the curious and amazed faces of the peasants gathering to watch us make our film, and to include in my picture frame those sunken eyes and crazed laughs, and to record their sighs and silences too. I wanted the gritty reality to be seen, rather than to be cleared out from the eye of the camera.
In this film, there are many faces and voices. They are vivid archives documenting our history and our present. And as much as they reveal about the ancient hardship of Chinese peasants, they also show the newly gained material desires, the cold-hearted indifference towards social responsibilities, resonating with the New China's ambition to be at the forefront of capitalist nations.
I feel sorrowful and disillusioned for those people who are very much part of my background. And as much as I love my country, I hate how ordinary individuals’ inner life can be completely kidnapped by the harsh forces of society, resulting in the individual no longer being able to recognize his or her own emotions.
I grew up in a village among illiterate people. Eventually, I left them for a bigger dream. Perhaps, I see my mission not so much as a writer and filmmaker, but rather as a kind of Don Quixote insisting on maintaining the idea of the intellectual, the reflective mind – concepts lost to us somewhere in the 70's. When I walk around and encounter these weathered faces, I feel a responsibility to let these low and anonymous people speak. I want to give them time on camera for their sadness and hope when they gaze at us.
I wanted this film to show a particular period of our country, following China’s dramatic revolutions – the Communist Revolution of the 1940s, the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s/70s and the ongoing Economic Revolution since the 1980s. As a filming method: an anti-climactic camera picks up each work-worn, warm, sorrowful, and sometimes innocent face in the film.
Between the chapters, children are reading from comic books, or we simply see the children’s faces – somehow I want them to tell us something about the future, not only of China, but also of our world, which has its beauty, brutality but mostly its banality.
Through the film, I try to evoke a feeling of the birth of an unimaginable future, a birth from the grotesque, a birth of new hope. And I seek an inner truth underlying this collective melancholy.
© Xiaolu Guo / Chapter Two Films
© Xiaolu Guo