Antonioni has a documentary vision underlying his classic films,this acts like a corrective to any kind of indulgence.Invited to China by MaoZe Dung for 8 weeks to document the effects of the Cultural Revolution on a presumption of shared values under constant chaperone,so as not to stray from the prearranged puppet-shows, acrobats, propaganda songs and indoctrinated story,there are moments he steals from his minders,out of the sides of their vision,sights of the people of China going about their daily routine out of the various cities and provinces. He intended solely to "present a large collection of faces,gestures,customs."This is a time capsule of an unknown China in the early 70s released into the West by a great master of film.Chung Kuo Cina was condemned by the Chinese as anti-Chinese imperialistic slander for not showing off the great achievements of the Cultural Revolution leading to a 32 year ban.This 208 minute version consists of 3 parts.The first part,taken around Beijing,includes a cotton factory, older sections of the city,and a clinic where a caesarean operation is performed,using acupuncture.The Great Wall of China is spectacular,although there are broken sections.
In documenting what he refers to as "mundane daily activity", Antonioni films the people as he finds them, with much attention paid to lingering shots of individual faces, ignoring one town governor's hasty attempts to force elderly residents out of the camera's sightlines,frantically insisting that everything be captured "properly".For all the sequences of immaculately behaved children reciting songs about the wonders of collectivism, it was a single shot of them running into the playground with which the censors took umbrage, at odds with the studious picture of youth they wished to present.He filmed structures like bridges more poetically.By playing around with imagery the Chinese saw him as destroying the propaganda of stability . Each section of Chung Kuo China takes in a different city or province on the crew's journey, beginning in Tiananmen Square (where we first hear the film's title theme "We Love Tiananmen Square") and ending in Shanghai. Antonioni is quick to admit that his portrait of China barely scratches the surface, quoting an old Chinese saying that "You can depict a Tiger's skin, but not its heart", but he's clearly seduced by the country's natural beauty, especially as the control exerted by his chaperones appears to loosen the further from Beijing they travel.People do Tai Chi exercises in squares.
Some of the best footage comes when travelling through the Henan Province, especially when the crew have to jump from a moving vehicle to capture the rare instance of a private market in full swing, despite their guides' futile attempts to stop them. The network of canals that make up Suzhou City provide some of the most beautiful imagery in the film, whilst a stop at China's largest factory recalls the industrial landscapes of Il Deserto Rosso (1964), but it's a ghost town of straw huts in the centre of Shanghai, left to commemorate the Sino-Japanese war, that prove the most eerily evocative. "For one fourth of the earth's population, we're so unfamiliar that it fills us with awe", the narration says, and one gets the impression that Antonioni is aware of the cultural importance of such privileged access to what would remain a closed world for years to come, "China has opened its doors, but still remains a distant and largely unknown world".With the restless curiosity of Marco Polo Antonioni tenderly takes in the faces of this alien world in tea houses and restaurants,street scenes where bicycles tinkle and on boats,he also illegally captures a war-ship briefly.This important pre-Capitalist China is an important social document of a lost era.There are some scratches to the film and the 3 parts are all compressed on one disc.You feel this revolution has met its match in a director who respects the collectivist vision in reducing malnutrition.No extras.In colour.