Those with a depth of knowledge about another culture, its art and artifacts take away a different experience from movies than strangers to that land (or imagined lands). Yet the currents running deep through Jia Zhang-Ke’s startlingly lyrical and sad “Still Life,” which won the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Film Festival, following the quests of two characters, a coal miner and a nurse, to reunite with lovers long lost, along the course of China’s Yangtze River, which is rising hundreds of feet, immersing hundreds of villages and thousands of years of culture, are, even at simplest glance, rich and haunting. Jia’s work (“Platform,” “Unknown Pleasures,” “The World”) has originated mostly in some form of digital video; “Still Life” and its companion documentary on the same ground, “Dong,” hold misty beauty, and his use of frame and duration are chillingly poetic. There is one shot that equals the last five minutes of “Fight Club,” of a reunited, long-sundered couple several floors up inside a half-demolished building, the skyline outside seen through a rude, jigsaw hole bashed into the edifice. They embrace. The small buildings on the horizon, in murk of mist and slightly blown-out light, detonate distantly and fall from the sky. Jia mingles fact and fiction in a way profoundly becalming despite the many detonations on display. This is beautiful work, streaked with tears. And dust: “The secrets of still life fell upon me,” Jia has written. “The old furniture, the stationery on the desk, the bottles on windowsills took on an air of poetic sorry. In the roaring noise and fluttering dust [of this condemned city], I felt that life really could blossom in brilliant colors even in a place with such desperation.” 108m. (Ray Pride)
“Still Life” opens Friday at the Music Box.