Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent)Berlin Film Festival 2016
A cryptic puzzle that could enchant or befuddle, Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent) certainly sets a distinctive mood from its very first frame. Gao Chan (Qin Hao) is a cargo-boat captain who travels up and down China’s mighty Yangtze river. He discovers a book of anonymously written poetry deep in the bowels of his boat, with each poem linked to a particular port on the river. He also seems as though he’s being followed along the river by a girl who might not be entirely of this world.
Even shrouded in mist and influenced by the gloom of the film’s characters, the Yangtze river is the star of director Yang Chao’s entry at the 66th Berlin Film Festival. The river looks romantic and forbidding, and this is clearly the point. Armadas of cargo boats defiantly chug up the river in a loose formation, and its these remarkable visuals that (almost) make up for the film’s flaws.
The dialogue is kept to a minimum, although a ponderous (and slightly pretentious) voiceover narrates the proceedings throughout. The audience also sees glimpses of the anonymous poems, but these are rather thankfully presented as words on the screen, instead of further off-screen narration.
It might be a lack of cultural context, but elements of Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent) are hard to grasp. There are many allusions to Chinese ghost stories and the true identity of the girl who follows Gao Chan along the river is never entirely revealed. She operates and responds in a way that doesn’t follow human logic, and so while there’s clearly supposed to be something ethereal about her, she’s not depicted as an obvious ghost.
There’s a beautiful richness in the river as the film winds along it, while following no particular narrative thread with any distinctiveness. A little more of a story might be helpful on the next boat trip.
Chang Jiang Tu (Crosscurrent) does not have a UK release date yet.
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