A documentary of striking resonance, Zhao Liang's Behemoth is a poetic and haunting portrait of modern day China, focusing on massive coal mine industry which fuels the countries consumption and growth. Behemoth is a film that certainly lives up to its name, exhibiting the sure scale of these mining observations, the weight they place on nature and the working class. This is a striking film from start to finish, with Behemoth completely telling its story through its aesthetic, juxtaposing the lush greenlands bristling with life, and that of the cold, desolate mining areas which are barren and lack any life outside of the coal miners. Some visuals are impressive just due to the fact that they are so literal and easy to express, one which comes to mind is a scene featuring a host of dumptrucks disposing of mining debris on the plain, with the composition bristling with sheep in the foreground, a not so subtle, but powerful visual of the taxing nature of humanity on the planet. Man's intrusion on nature is a major theme of Behemoth, as the film portrays these mining operations as almost monstrous -slowly crawling the countryside, leaving everything barren and dead in its wake. Behemoth is very Impressionistic, something which is rarely used to describe documentaries, with visuals which at times evoke imagery typically seen in post-apocalyptic narrative such as Mad Max, with the dust, dirty, and quiet ugliness of the mining landscape being a character in its own right. If it isn’t clear already, one of Behemoth’s strongest attributes is its ability to evoke a visceral reaction from its viewers, with carefully constructed cinematography that transports the viewer into the world of these miners, evoking the sense of claustrophobia, danger, and overall harshness of the world these men inhabit on a daily basis. While much of what Behemoth presents early on is grand, the film never loses its ability to maintain its intimacy, focusing on the toll these mining operations have on the workers. In one brief sequence, Zhao Liang simply documents the process these workers go through simply to clean themselves, revealing how the soot gets on nearly every crevice of the body, clinging on to the skin, with cleanliness itself being a time consuming practice. While the filmmaker chooses an intimate, observational approach that some may find tepid, one could argue that at its core Behemoth is about the unbridled consumption which Capitalism embraces, as the film explores the toll consumerism has on nature and the less fortunate, who work in poor conditions to support this human consumption known as consumerism. Told using narration that is poetic and profound, Behemoth is a film that never feels manipulative in its beautiful study of man vs. nature, capitalism, and even materialism, never attempting to manipulative, simply focusing on presenting a portrait of modern day China with striking vision.
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