Fei Cui Zhi Cheng (City of Jade)
If there’s one thing to be said for Midi Z’s documentary Fei Cui Zhi Chen (in English, City of Jade) it’s that it never shies away from bleak reality. The film charts the lives of a team of Burmese jade miners who hope to make their fortunes in the eponymous City of Jade, a large and unregulated mining complex that has been temporarily abandoned by the larger corporations. Over the course of around 90 minutes, the film uses the miners’ tribulations to delve into such cheery subjects as drugs, poverty and political turmoil, but what makes this so intriguing is the very natural way in which it is executed. City of Jade never feels at all preachy or manipulative, even though cameraman/director Midi Z clearly has some agency in the narrative. It’s very clear that nothing has been scripted, and in that sincerity the film is extremely moving.
The movie is well presented from a visual perspective, too. Though the shaky, handheld angle of most documentaries is pervasive here, and makes the events of the story feel all the more visceral, the camera never misses an opportunity to portray the oppressive, smog-filled vistas of the mine, establishing a good sense of geography, even while providing the perfect accompaniment to the hopelessness of the miners’ plight. The director’s confidence shines through in the composition; the cyclical, procedural nature of the miners’ work is effectively embellished with tense standoffs with soldiers, touching conversations with the workers and deeper explorations into very personal history.
Though City of Jade is difficult to criticise, it’s not a perfect film. While it manages to sustain audience interest, it quickly begins to feel very aimless, and perhaps that’s the point. The narrative isn’t centred around any single event, and so it lacks a truly satisfying conclusion. This, however, is far outweighed by themes and conversations that engage the viewer on both an intellectual and an emotional level. This, combined with practiced cinematography, makes City of Jade a compelling, if depressing, film.
Fei Cui Zhi Cheng (City of Jade) does not have a UK release date yet.
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