People Mountain People Sea
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People Mountain People Sea

Despite what other trailers may tell you, here is the feel-bad movie of the year.

Cai Shangjun (Hong Kong, Contemporary World Cinema)

Thursday, September 15, 6:30 p.m.
AMC 6 (43 Gerrard Street East)

Friday, September 16, 9:30 p.m.
AMC 5 (10 Dundas Street East)

Saturday, September 17, 3:30 p.m.
Scotiabank Theatre 3 (259 Richmond Street West)

Last month, chances are folks would have never heard of Chinese director Cai Shangjun, though after winning the Silver Lion for best director at Venice odds are… OK, so maybe the average person still isn’t familiar with Shangjun. But to festival types, for an unsuspecting film to float in with an insurmountable status puts on a bit of pressure. Does People Mountain People Sea captivate in a way that earns trophies and trumps the competition? No, not quite. But is it a good film? Oh yeah, totally. Just don’t expect to be on cloud nine come credits and we can all leave a better person.

Having only just returned to the quiet mountains, Lao Tie (Chen Jianbin) has been informed by police that his brother was murdered by an ex-convict. Tie isn’t on fantastic terms with the law, either, owing some debt for criminal negligence. Tie decides to hunt down his brother’s killer, hoping for revenge with a bounty on the side. Going back to the city, Shangjun makes it obvious why it’s somewhere a person wouldn’t want to be if they had the choice. Filth, clutter, crime, drugs, violence, and rape are rampant, though that isn’t to say Lao Tie is above any of it.

People Mountain is aggressively bleak. The contrast between the scenic mountains and the terrible city is the filming location’s gift to Shangjun, because even when things seem unbelievably awful it still feels like this is a place where people actually live. The conclusion is a little too fuzzy for its own good, something Shangjun admitted during a Q&A, but Shangjun has a knack for making shots as unrelenting as the subject matter. Perhaps Venice just didn’t feel like liking the world this year.