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Town & Country
Seeing the latest film from Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke in front of a TIFF audience is always something of a treat. Although his acclaimed films typically receive theatrical distribution in Canada, it's usually of the art house variety that sees his work shine on 200 seat theatres before making the silent segueway to DVD. The chance to see the final Festival screening of his recent foray 24 City, an evocative blend of fiction and documentary, in front of a full house of 600 at the AMC multiplex was not to be missed.

Jia had already returned to China and was not in attendance. He has always struck me as a kind of Chinese Robert Altman, with his low-key emphasis on capturing the often tragicomic fates of his characters, who exist in milieus and atmosphere where the convenient gloss of movie logic and the mundane minuetae of everyday reality seem to intersect. Through interviews with factory workers and local residents and staged, fictional monologues from three of China's most famous actresses (Lv Liping, Zhao Tao and Joan Chen), 24 City examines the legacy and impact of a massive aeronautical factory on the lives of those who worked there and lived nearby. By extension, the film serves as a kind of penetrating personal overview of China's shift from Communism to capitalism, from an impoverished agricultural and manufacturing economy to a hyper-thriving industrial giant.

"If you have something to do, you age more slowly," states one of the film's subjects. An inter-title towards the end of the film describing the setting, Chengdu, as "home of the lotus-eating life" also alludes to the idea of a China that allows for relaxed prosperity through dedicated labour in service of the motherland. But like Gary Burns and Jim Brown's Radiant City, which screened at the Festival in 2005, 24 City uses fictionalized characters to probe the facade of contemporary life and, furthermore, to hold a mirror up to an emerging superpower so that it can come to terms with its past and its future.