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China, 1996 (MIFF 1996, Contemporary World Cinema )

Director: Zhang Yuan

The Li household is a typical Beijing family, and a real Beijing family too. In this sensational docudrama, they re-enact their domestic history. The confronting results make Sylvania Waters look like Antic Of Green Gables and show ordinary life in today's China as never before. Father Li has been drinking for years. The days when he and his wife were sleek and romantic professional dancers, seen in his wife's family photos, are long gone, and now his mind is deteriorating too. Unfortunately, both sons seem determined to follow in his footsteps. Long-haired and unemployed, they are only interested in sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Mother lies to cope but without much success.

Sons is a breakthrough in PS Chinese film naking. winning maverick director Zhang Yuan a Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival larlier this year. Like other younger Chinese Directors, Zhang goes against the stylised historical melodramas of Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and Zhang Yimou (Shanghai Triad). striving instead for gritty, grungy contemporary realism. His first film, Mama (1990), focussed on disabled children; Beijing Bastards (1993) captured that city's rock sub-culture.

Crucial to Sons was the cooperation of the Lis, Zhang's real-life neighbours who sought him out just a few years ago the traditional Chinese taboos against hanging your dirty washing out in public would have made this unthinkable. Now it eems everyone has a story to tell and Chinese newspapers and television are filled with exposes and confessions from ordinary people forever. Sons tops the lot. (CB)

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