Combustible Celluloid
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With: n/a
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Du Haibin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 03/18/2013

Umbrella (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Report from SFIFF

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: This documentary, from the Sixth Generation director Du Haibin, plays without a single talking head, and only a handful of intertitles to remind us where we are and what's going on. The film uses the umbrella as a metaphor for the China of today, and its burgeoning, but quickly-shifting economy. Its five segments begin in a factory full of young people hoping to make a quick buck putting umbrellas together. The film swings over to merchants selling umbrellas, then job hunters attending a job fair. The fourth segment focuses on the military as an option for young people. And the fifth looks at the farmers who suffer the most. For the first time in generations, young people deserted their family farms to seek their fortune in the city, and city economics began to intrude on farm life, running many farmers out of business. Du Haibin shows all this without a single word. He just stands back and photographs. He goes for a Frederick Wiseman-like fly-on-the-wall approach that's still enormously effective, if slightly devious (no film is this objective). The overall result is fascinating, if brutally depressing. It paints a decidedly different picture than the Chinese government would want you to believe.

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