Up the Mountain offers a glimpse into a version of China that is hardly ever seen these days. Most films about China tend to focus on cheap labour, human rights abuses, and its growing economic power as the world’s largest manufacturer. These are important topics, but their prevalence has made it difficult to picture China through any other lens. Zhang Yang’s film bypasses these popular angles, and in doing so reminds us that every country has different stories to tell.
Cultivating the heart of a community
Up the Mountain is a portrait of the slow-paced life of a village in the Yunnan Province, a setting in which culture is ubiquitous, and the rhythm of life follows the rhythm of nature. Using multiple cameras and precisely framed shots, this portrait is idyllic without idealizing. It sets aside judgements and politics, in order to tell a candid story of community and warmth;one that invokes both inspiration and a real sense of possibility.
Shen Jianhua is the artist at the centre of the film, a figure as fatherly and wise as he is mysterious. He left Shanghai behind to live on top of the mountain. He teaches art to the villagers, and together with his pregnant wife and teenage daughter, they build a home that becomes the heart of the local community: a place where people come and go, where meals are prepared and new artists are formed.
Each fragment of this life is summed up in a painting or drawing, which builds a feeling of raw …
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