China Not China
year of production: 2018
country of production: Australia
director: Dianna Barrie, Richard Tuohy
director of photography: Richard Tuohy
editing: Richard Tuohy
festivals: 65th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
© images: China Not China (Dianna Barrie, Richard Tuohy)
In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to China with the declaration "One country, two systems" as a Special Administrative Region. All economic and political interference by mainland China was stopped for 50 years. However, since 2003, mainland China has been slowly ignoring one of the systems: For example, media companies were bought by mainland Chinese companies and the free elections promised for 2017 were hindered by a change in policy. In 2014, the pro-democracy umbrella movement protested. Even more complex is the situation in Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, which is indeed a separate (democratic) state but is not recognized as such by the People's Republic of China. While Xi Jinping speaks of a "historically intended" Anschluss and has been directing more than 1000 rockets at the country for years, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-Wen last called on Mainland China in her New Year's address in 2019 to acknowledge its "existence as Taiwan".
Dianna Barrie and Richard Tuohy's "China Not China" translates this state of competition between several narratives and the overlapping of different realities into overlapping images. The surfaces and lines of the street views shown flow into each other in her short film with the aid of multiple exposures, creating futuristic shots full of doubled, tripled, tenfold movements that additionally elude reality in the slow motion used. There are thirteen minutes in which not much happens in the layers of the images and yet everything happens. It is almost always intersections, shot in Hong Kong and Taipei, over which the camera pans from left to right, showing traffic and human flows merging into an impenetrable tangle.
In the superimposed repetition of the ever-same, the individuals dissolve in the mass and the three-dimensionality dissolves in the surface. The city becomes a network that just barely allows us to see movements from A to B. The city is a network of the same kind. The intersection as a fork in the road can be seen here as a symbol for the crossroads, the moment of transition, just as the unsteady, wobbly structures in the pictures refer to the radical change in Chinese society, which offers a hold that allows no escape.
All the effects in "China Not China" were created in camera. Nothing was added or changed in postproduction. At the edges of individual shots, the multiple exposure process becomes visible for fractions of a second when some of the layered images suddenly disappear. The net breaks open and takes a look behind the dense facade into the realm of the imaginable. These fragile moments form important anchor points when looking. They give a little hope for the other in a film that, in addition to its visual density, exerts a hypnotic force from an almost threatening ambience caught in a loop that makes you forget everything.
And last but not least, it is the film material itself, in its fragility and instability, that supports this hope.
- This review was previously published in German on FilmGazette.de.