21 February 2010

24 City

A few years ago I was at an art museum in Warsaw and saw a piece by Iwona Zając called Stocznia. It was a beautiful painting of various aspects of the Gdańsk shipyard, accompanied by quotes from employees. It was originally done as a series of murals, but the piece I saw was one gigantic painting done on the museum wall. You can see some of the mural project (and quotes) here. This might seem like a very random way to start a post about 24 City, but the reason that I mention it is because watching the movie reminded me of Stocznia - and affected me in the same way. Both are incredibly beautiful, moving works, and both kind of blew my mind and really made me think about labor, class, and social change.

24 City is about a factory in Chengdu, China, that is in the process of shutting down and being replaced by 24 City, a fancy new complex. The movie is part fiction, part documentary - some of the people being interviewed are actual former employees, others are actors. I had no idea which was which, though I might've, had I paid better attention to the opening credits. I honestly couldn't say whether that would add or detract to the experience of watching the movie.

The film is just a collection of people talking. And it is absolutely incredible. The way that these people talk about their lives, the radiantly gorgeous (albeit occasionally devastating) anecdotes and stories they tell - it's just amazing. Rather than being some kind of hamfisted discussion* of what the factory has meant to them, how their lives will change, they just... talk. And in the process, you get such a powerful sense of how their - and this - world is changing. It's just mindblowing. Maybe it's because I'm an Eastern Bloc baby who left at a young age and never had to really confront the hardest parts of Communism, but what really struck me in this movie was how there is not only a sense of dignity in labor, but also of being part of this larger collective in a way that is really beautiful and moving. Despite what is occasionally immense hardship and intense, almost unimaginable, suffering.

It's not a fast-paced, action-packed movie. The experience of watching it, for me, was of sort of sitting back and letting it wash over me. Visually, it was quite impressive, but it was mostly just this feeling of listening to talk about their lives in this really riveting way.

*Which was the sense I got from Up the Yangtze, which I hated.

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