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Per Song

[…] But this choice of a poor filmic construction allows the force of the characters, their swinging urban mood, their random drives, and their flux of desires to emerge together with the splendid photography. Shuchang Xie’s minimalism becomes an ode to youth and its uncertainty, where the sheer presence of the desiring bodies is enough to eroticize the space and the film.

[…] Romanticism, with its private feelings and the anarchy of love, is a universal language that, for once, closes the distance that is often presented in Chinese documentaries.

Chongqing is a huge Chinese metropolis which is present in Per Song more through its noise in the background and through its urban spirit. This spirit is embodied by seven Chinese youth whom Shuchang Xie portrays mainly at night in private spaces or bars. Shuchang Xie is a photographer who knows very well how to produce black-and-white photographic beauty: in Per Song, his first film, contrasts and shadows highlight the close-ups, and foggy greys make up the town background. The use of black-and-white also produces a peculiar suspension of time, which does not follow the rhythm of day and night, work and free time: our characters speak in a continuous flow, where relationships are almost the only topic of discussion. There are the difficult relationships with their families and the stories of friendship, love and sex between them. The former display a catastrophic past and are placed in the outside world, far from Per Song’s focus; the latter are there, in private spaces, in a present full of future, full of open questions.

With the exception of the accurate photography, Per Song’s other filmic aspects seem to suit a home-movie aesthetic: the editing is abrupt, the locations are casual, the frames are quite simple and focus only on the characters, the music is exclusively intradiegetic, the camera’s presence is not hidden; we are given the impression that we have raw film material in front of us. But this choice of a poor filmic construction allows the force of the characters, their swinging urban mood, their random drives, and their flux of desires to emerge together with the splendid photography. Shuchang Xie’s minimalism becomes an ode to youth and its uncertainty, where the sheer presence of the desiring bodies is enough to eroticize the space and the film. The “Chinese touch” – never clearly deciding for a yes or no – gives a bittersweet sense of continuity to a narration that presents itself through a scattered mosaic of characters and situations.

«Had I not seen the Sun / I could have born the shade / But Light a newer Wilderness / My Wilderness has made». These verses by Emily Dickinson open the film, and it is closed with an equally romantic song. Romanticism, with its private feelings and the anarchy of love, is a universal language that, for once, closes the distance that is often presented in Chinese documentaries. But genuine romanticism – which we should never confuse with its Hollywoodian pop knock-off – could and should also be seen as a political statement in China against standardisation and against the neo-traditionalism of Chinese modern communism.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: February 14, 2017

Per Song | Film | Shuchang Xie | CHN 2015 | 73’ | Swiss Distribution: Cinelibre

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