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Vigil and Memorial: Two Films by Wang Bing
November 9, 2018 @ 8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
An in-person discussion with Wang Bing follows each film screening.
$12 Special Event Tickets
This event is co-sponsored by the Fairbank Center’s Emergent Visions in Independent Chinese Cinema series, organized by Professor Jie Li, and the Harvard Film Archive.
***NOTE TIME CHANGE***
Friday November 9 at 8pm
A moving and bracing portrait of a dying woman and her family, Mrs. Fang offers a remarkable variation of Wang Bing’s engaged cinema that demands the viewer to empathize and experience, in real time and real emotion, the intense yet poetically unfolding human dramas captured by his unwavering camera. Wang Bing’s shortest feature to date is among his most ethically and structurally profound—balanced between extended close-ups of the frail Fang Xiuying, locked into an open-eyed coma, and tender scenes of her family alternately overcome by grief and matter-of-factly accepting the inevitable. Most surprising are the sequences featuring two family members leaving Mrs. Fang’s small home to go night fishing, an exercise that gently carries the weight of spiritual metaphor: a search for sustenance, survival, friendship in a cold, dark world.
At eight hours and fifteen minutes, Dead Souls is based on interviews, footage and other memory traces Wang Bing gathered over twelve years, from more than 120 people across various provinces. Covering a period from the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957 to the end of the Great Leap famine in 1961, most of the film features testimonies from survivors of a “re-education camp” in northwestern China, many once “revolutionaries” who were then “revolutionized.” Incarcerated for minor criticisms of the Party, for past support of the Kuomintang, for Christian faith, or for no reason they can fathom, former camp inmates recount recipes of starvation, logistics of death and ruinations of families. Occasionally we also see their wives in the margins of the frame or hear offscreen voices of children too young to understand. The overlay of their testimonies—full of resonances, contradictions, digressions and silences—metonymically point to past injustice and suffering at a much larger scale. While Wang Bing explored the same harrowing topic of the Jiabiangou labor camp in previous work such as Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (2007) and The Ditch (2010), the monumental scale, unsensational precision and multiple perspectives of Dead Souls have drawn comparisons to Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary Shoah. Mediating testimony for those who can no longer bear witness for themselves, Dead Souls invites us to partake in a belated memorial service for the victims of the Maoist revolution still condemned to state-sponsored amnesia.