Mountains May Depart (4 stars)

Mountains May Depart

Sweeping portrait of friendship spanning a quarter of a century, from Chinese director Jia Zhangke

Mountains May Depart, from director Jia Zhangke (A Touch of Sin, Still Life), has all the sweep and emotion of a great epic novel. Mixing classic melodrama with futuristic speculation, it captures the changing face of modern China through the lives of three friends over a quarter of a century.

The film begins in 1999 to the sounds of the Pet Shop Boys' version of 'Go West' and it signals a recurring theme; China looks to the west and embraces capitalism as the lure of consumer goods starts to outshine the loyalty to Communist principles.

Initially there is the promise of a new millennium. Dance instructor Tao (Zhao Tao, the director's wife) is torn between two suitors: coal miner Liangzi (Liang Jingdong) and flashy young entrepreneur Zhang (Zhang Yi), who seems to embody the drive and arrogance of the new China. It is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Jia's film that Zhang does everything to push Liangzi out of the picture and confirm that he represents the future. He becomes such an advocate of prosperity that he even names his son 'Dollar'.

There are further snapshots of these lives in 2014 and 2025, shot in different aspect ratios, capturing the fractured ties that still bind the characters. The final segment, set in Australia, is the least successful of the three, feeling awkward in its language and plotting.

Overall, Mountains May Depart is a melancholy reflection on lost dreams, the paths not taken, the clash of reality and what might have been. The simple feat of surviving is worthy of celebration in a world that alters beyond your wildest imaginings. As the film ends, we return to the song 'Go West' which now assumes a poignant air of regret in the face of all that has befallen the central trio.

Selected release from Fri 15 Dec.

Mountains May Depart

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • China / France / Japan
  • 2h 11min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Zhangke Jia
  • Cast: Tao Zhao, Yi Zhang, Jing Dong Liang

In 1999, dance instructor Tao (Zhao) is torn between coal miner Liangzi (Liang) and entrepreneur Zhang (Zhang). A sweeping portrait of friendship that captures the changing face of modern China, as well as a melancholy reflection on lost dreams, it has the scope and emotion of a great novel.