Pickpocket (1998) - Jia Zhangke
Xiao Wu shows flashes of what would become Jia Zhangke's masterful use of mise-en-scene in which his rigorous formal style and precise visual tableaux would ultimately lead him to become one of the essential filmmakers of his generation. The tenets of China's rapid transition, the effects transnational exchange and modernity have placed on the social are embedded into the thematics of even his debut feature, yet Xiao Wu remains one of his more intimate and simplistic structural works, one in which he deploys a cinema verite to elucidate these themes. The story of a small-town pickpocket who finds himself in a state of solitude after discovering many of his old friends have now gone straight- embracing the commercialism and commodification intrinsic to capitalism - Xiao Wu's narrative framework slyly draw parallels between crime and capitalism exhibiting how state-enforced notions of legality form the only point of distinction from a behavior that is largely the same. A soulful portrait of alienation and despondency, Jia's debut ultimately feels rooted more in emotion poignancy than thematic rigor. The displacement and disorienting effect transnational exchange can place on those ill-equipped or ill-prepared to contribute is deeply felt, and in many ways this story is more rooted in the individual than nearly any of his other films which I can recall, exhibiting the rapid evolving milieu through the lens of an individual who ultimately becomes an outcast, incapable of embracing the chaotic nature brought by this rush toward transnationalism and ultimately capitalism. The denouement is the perfect encapsulation of the divisions and disruption to the social told through a personal ontology. A stunning debut feature that signals the impressive filmmaker Jia Zhangke would later become, Xiao Wu aptly feels like a young filmmaker working towards what would become his formal style.
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