Still Life

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Still Life is set in Fengjie, a city upstream of the massive Three Gorges Dam. Now marked for flooding, the city undergoes a process of self-deconstruction. Into this dying town comes Han Sanming, a coal-miner from the province of Shanxi who has returned in search of a wife who ran away sixteen years ago. Upon arriving, he asks a local motorcyclist to drive him to his former address on “Granite Street.” The driver takes him to the river bank, revealing that his entire neighborhood has been flooded since the building of the dam. After a failed attempt to obtain his wife’s information from the local municipal office, Han Sanming settles into a local hotel. Sanming’s next stop is a rickety boat owned by his wife’s elder brother. The brother informs Sanming that his wife and daughter (the real reason for his return) work downriver in Yichang but that if he remains in the city, they will eventually return. Sanming then befriends a local teen, Brother Mark, who helps him get a job with his demolition crew. Together, the two spend their days tearing down buildings. The film then cuts to a second story with the arrival of Shen Hong, a nurse. Shen Hong’s husband, Guo Bing had left their home in Shanxi two years earlier and had made only token attempts to keep in contact. She eventually enlists the help of one of her husband’s friends, Wang Dongming, who lets her stay at his home as the two seek Guo Bin. Shen Hong discovers that Guo Bin had become a fairly successful businessman in Fengjie. Dongming refuses to answer whether Guo Bin has another girl on the side, though Shen Hong later finds out her husband is indeed having an affair with his wealthy investor. When Guo Bin and Shen Hong at last meet, she simply walks away. As her husband pursues her, she tells him that she has fallen in love with someone else and wishes to divorce. When he asks with whom and when she had fallen in love, she responds, “Does it really matter?” The film then cuts back to Sanming for the final third. He has been working at demolishing buildings for some time when Brother Mark is fatally injured in a collapse of a wall, or perhaps he was murdered during a “job” contracted out by Guo Bin to gather a gang of youths to intimidate the inhabitants of a rival piece of real estate. Soon afterwards, his brother-in-law calls informing him that his wife, Missy Ma has returned. Sanming and Missy then meet. Sanming asks why she left him, to which she answers, “I was young, what did I know?” She tells him that their daughter works further south, and that she works for a boat-owner essentially as an indentured servant due to her brothers debt. Sanming attempts to take his ex-wife with him, but is informed that he will have to pay 30,000 RMB to cover the debt. He promises to do so, and makes the decision to head back to Shanxi to work in the mines. His new friends and coworkers announce that they will be following, but Sanming reminds them of the intensely dangerous nature of the work. The film ends as Sanming prepares to depart. A man walking across a tight-rope appears in the background… less

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