The style and the content of Mao Mao's 'Here, Then' is made very clear right from the first scene. It's made up of long slow static takes of scenes where very little happens, there's very little dialogue, characters are difficult to identify or tell apart, they stare out of windows and smoke cigarettes and one scene moves to the next with little sense of a narrative or continuity. It's very much in the Jia Zhang-ke meditative style of filmmaking which likewise often deals with rural boredom and urban alienation. That doesn't necessarily mean that the film itself has to be boring, but it has to be said that Here, Then often is.
On the other hand, the film does indeed seem to accurately reflect the nature and the circumstances of its characters in a way that ends up being quite compelling. If the film is to realistically represent their lives, there's no reason why they should be articulate and tell you how they feel. Through various methods, in brief moments of contact and reaching out to make a connection, in pop songs that are often their only means of expression and escape, and in one or two key "break out" scenes that go against the tide of the otherwise slow pace of the film, you do get a sense of the film touching on something deeper.
The film is also beautifully photographed, making tremendous use of light and with an unusual and enveloping sound design that does manage to frame the characters in their environment and capture a sense of them at a loss in in their hopeless situations. With very little dialogue, it can be difficult to gain any real insight into their condition, but Here, Then is an immersive experience that does gradually start to reveal its intentions in the connections it makes through images, locations and the characters.
I can well understand that this kind of cinema might not be for everyone, that it can often be difficult to follow when there seems to be little point or meaning to many of the scenes, and that it can indeed often be boring for long stretches, but even if you just feel relieved to make it to the end of the film, you could well find that the experience stays with you and can even be quite haunting. A word about the DVD - the quality of the image is just stunning and even in stereo, the audio track is powerful and enveloping. I couldn't imagine this looking or sounding much better in High Definition. There's a good interview with the director Mao Mao included and a good booklet essay, both of which are useful in gaining an appreciation of what the film is about.