Dir: Gu Changwei China.2005. 161mins.
If further proof wereneeded of the technical and emotional maturity of the New Chinese cinema, then Peacocksupplies it. The story of three siblings in a provincial Chinese town at thetail end of the Cultural Revolution, this sensitive, deceptively simple filmtakes a while to establish its authority, but patient audiences will warm tothe story and its three young protagonists.
With Zhang Yimou's recentoutput one occasionally feels that not much lies beneath the dazzling surface,but here the opposite is true: cinematographer turned first-time director Wei(who studied with Zhang and Chen Kaige at the Beijing Film Academy) exalts theordinary, and shows that there is much more to everyday problems and supposedly"normal" families than meets the eye.
Lighter and more gracefulthan its running time of two hours and forty minutes would suggest, Peacockshould break out of the festival circuit to reach discerning arthouse viewersin selected territories.
Sales are currently beinghandled by production company Asian Union, but after the film picked up theSilver Bear (Jury Grand Prix) award at the Berlinale, it would not be asurprise to see an international distribution deal inked with a moreexperienced player.
Scriptwriter Li Qiang hailsfrom Anyang, a small town in Huang province, which also provided the locationsfor the film. The introductory shot and its accompanying voice-over roots us inthe everyday: a family of five are huddled around a small table on the porch outsidetheir apartment, eating rice. The time is around 1978, two years after Mao'sdeath, when the first stirrings of economic liberalisation were being felt. Butpolitics - in the macro sense of the term - hardly touch the lives of the threesiblings at the centre of this gentle, picaresque domestic history.
Paratroopers drop out of thesky merely to fuel the dreamy romantic fantasies of Weihong (Zhang Jingchu),the pretty pig-tailed sister, and when she eventually marries the driver of alocal bureau chief, what matters is not so much the fact that she is about tobecome the wife of a party worker as the fact that the impetuous, girlishdreamer has finally given up her illusions, and even seems to be punishingherself by choosing an older man with not a grain of charisma in him.
Though time pointers arethin on the ground, the action appears to span six or seven years. We followthe sister in the first part, seeing the story from her point of view - thoughthe camera itself is not subjective, filming from outside in classically-framedand lit shots, with few close-ups. This rather formal technique, and themeasured rhythm of the film, sets up a dialogue of reserve and respect betweenviewer and subject, suggesting depths without diving into them.
Peacock takes its time, charting Weihong's journey throughdisillusionment to some sort of self-awareness, then looping back to follow herelder brother, the obese and not-quite-there Weiguo (Feng Li), then dippingback once more to follow younger brother Weiqiang (Lu Yulai), a wiry adolescentwho is tormented by the embarrassment of having a handicapped brother and, weare allowed to infer, secretly in love with his sister.
In the end, Peacockis a film about survival and resilience; when the sister's voice is heardsaying "We're all okay" at the end, it feels like some kind of victory.
Prod co: Asian Union Film & Media Co
Int'l sales: Wang Wei
Prods: Dong Ping, Gu Changwei
Scr: Li Qiang
Cine: Yang Shu
Prod des: Huang Xinmin, Cai Weidong
Eds: Liu Sha, Yan Tao
Music: Dou Peng
Main cast: Zhang Jingchu, Feng Li, Lu Yulai, Huang Meiying, Zhao Yiwei