Being a narrative film composed entirely of CCTV surveillance footage, Xu Bing's Dragonfly Eyes could easily have been nothing but an arthouse gimmick, an interesting experiment but not much more. Fortunately Dragonfly Eyes is not only an intriguing artistic experiment but much more, as Xu Bing has crafted a memorable examination of contemporary China, one in which the old traditions and that way of life clash violently with the fast-paced changes to society brought by the economic boom and the promises of modernity. A peculiar love story, one between a two drifters which never fully develops in the traditional sense, Dragonfly Eyes is an affecting portrait of longing and identity, beautifully juxtaposing the internal struggle of it's main protagonists with the cold, chaotic gaze of the surveillance footage. The film's singular design takes some getting used too, but soon into the film's running time the narrative of two lost souls takes control, as the film sculpts its intricate and profound portrait of the impersonal nature of culture and Zeitgeist, one in which individuals are crushed under the momentum of the larger collective known as "society". Both protagonists in this story are individuals who struggle to find their place. They are uncomfortably with their identity, whether that be via physically or emotionally, and through their plight we witness the cold, sterile nature of society, one in which not everyone's needs can be met. Through its main protagonists, Dragonfly Eyes delivers a portrait of the collateral damage, a plea to society to not forget the more tranquil, empathetic aspects of humanity, ones that are often trampled by widespread consumerism. The cold detachment of the CCTV cameras are not only a creative artistic design but also thematically paramount in illustrating the film's thematic assertions, as the surveillance footage itself evokes the coldness of modernity, one in which people are nothing more than numbers or objects, discernible from each other on a massive scale. The internal struggle of our two main protagonists feel paramount in the scope of this story, yet juxtaposed against the CCTV footage their personal strife feels horrifically minuscule against the larger scale transformation of the culture as a whole. A powerful and relevant piece of cinema constructed in a singular way, Xu Bing's Dragonfly Eyes is a startling reminder of the no-boundaries, limitless nature of cinema at its best; an effective instrument that should be wielded to speak to large scale, complex socio-political-cultural issues pertaining to the human condition.
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