The times they are a-changin’ in Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart, a melodrama, set in China and Australia, divided into three periods. The first section is set in 1999: two men, one wealthy one not, compete for the affection of a singer (Tao Zhao). This section is part rom-com, part soap, and, weirdly, no one changes outfits. In the next section, set in 2015, the singer, having decided which suitor to marry, now deals with motherhood while the rejected suitor navigates through a new life. The aspect ratio gets wider in this section, the movie gets grimmer, characters change outfits. In the final section, set in 2025, the singer’s son grapples with growing pains, and finds an unlikely ally and lover. Though sporadically funny, this section is melancholy. Mountains May Depart’s sweeping scope attests to its novelistic ambitions. Zhangke does not employ art house idioms, the movie isn’t glacially paced or opaque. A few musical numbers set to Pet Shop Boys, a hypnotic club scene, a shot of a swelling crowd, a scene of a truck carrying coal, and the final scene are raw and evocative, and even less powerful scenes can be subtle and tender. But the movie’s earnestness is suffocating, and it’s devoid of sex and joy, concerned mainly with drama and heartache.
In Mandarin & Cantonese & English
By Alec Julian & Carrie White