52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #19: “Soul On A String” (China)

“Soul On A String” (China)
Directed by Zhang Yang

Zhang Yang’s mysterious epic is, above all else, beautiful to look at and a worthwhile experience. Set in the mountainous regions of Tibet, at its outset “String” feels like a Sergio Leone film…and many of Leone’s most iconic directorial choices are utilized by Yang. However, as the film progresses…and the story devolves in to a mystery…or figment of someone’s imagination…or a tale of good versus evil…those traits appear less and less. As a result we’re left with a fairly slow moving, and somewhat undecipherable, morality tale draped in beauty.

This isn’t to say it’s not good. It’s actually quite mesmerizing. The cast are committed enough to keep you invested, even as you begin to question what the hell is going on. The score, by Jian Zhang, is utterly fantastic. And Damin Guo’s cinematography includes some of the best mountainous photography I’ve ever seen – sweeping, epic and hypnotic imagery throughout.

Look…I’m VERY willing to concede that my confusions in regard to the overly intricate story (with major characters appearing late in the second act, and time lapses occurring for some characters, but not others) are cultural…that this tale would make a lot more sense if I were Tibetan or Chinese. However, I’m not, so I can only communicate my personal response to the film (and the substance of its subtitles). While I wasn’t always sure of the directors’ POV, I was pleased to have been along for the ride – both during and after the screening. And in a film this gorgeous…that’s enough.

Written on 11/10/2016

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