Magazine article Screen International

'Ash Is Purest White': Cannes Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Ash Is Purest White': Cannes Review

Article excerpt

Jia Zhangke explores the evolution of China through the experiences of a woman released from jail

Ash Is Purest White

Dir. Jia Zhangke. China. 2018. 141mins

Jolting, seismic shifts in 21st century Chinese society are viewed through the bittersweet ebb and flow of an epic love story in Ash Is Purest White. The latest state of the nation report from Jia Zhang-Ke gives the viewer plenty to chew over and is suffused with a mournful melancholy. A thoughtful, measured piece that lacks the anger and intensity of his earlier work, it should attract the same level of interest as the more ambitious Mountains May Depart.

Jia Zhangke’s first collaboration with cinematographer Eric Gautier results in a film that is rich in atmosphere

There are many similarities with Mountains in terms of its time span, structure and focus on the way that individuals reflect the wider currents within their country. There is also further evidence of the director’s fondness for Village People standards, with the haunting use of Go West in Mountains now joined by the prominence of YMCA on this soundtrack.

Ash Is Purest White begins in 2001 in Shanxi, a mining town in north-west China that is threatened with the prospect of becoming a ghost town. We are introduced to the formidable Qiao (Zhao Tao), a woman with the personality of a hardboiled saloon keeper in a Hollywood Western. She administers a hefty thump on the back to men she considers friends and greets her lover, local mobster Bin (Liao Fan) with a playful bite.

When Bin’s car is stopped by a gang of young bikers and he is severely beaten, it is Qiao who intervenes, firing off an illegal gun. She claims ownership of the firearm and is sentenced to five years imprisonment.

When she is released in 2006, she goes in search of Bin, expecting to resume their life and assuming that things can just go back to the way they were. She is to discover that nothing stays the same and that there is no going back.

The themes of Ash Is Purest White are constantly restated as it grapples with the process of change, what is lost along the way and the price paid by those who survive. In their happiest times together, Bin advises Qiao to “ enjoy the moment”, and that could be the film’s wisest counsel. …

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