I’ll begin by apologizing for my tardiness as festival fatigue has finally worn off following its conclusion. I saw a total of fifteen films at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, most of which were well worth seeing barring a couple of duds. This sheer volume of viewing paired with my continuing obsession with comparing my opinions with others’ yielded something fruitful, more specifically an overarching moment of self-reflection regarding my personal tastes. I’ve further distanced myself from past fears of harboring dissenting opinions, and thankfully, I feel much more confident in ironing out the criteria to befit my growing canon of personal favorites. Catching up with wide-release fare I’ve missed throughout the festival’s duration will prove tiresome, but I plan on eliminating a few blind spots in between these viewings whenever possible. Feel free to check out my ranked list of everything I saw at PFF24 here.
Mountains May Depart is Jia Zhangke’s insular tale of life and love spanning three consecutive time periods. Beginning with a focus on a love triangle between young Tao (Zhao Tao) and two potential male suitors – one a white collar coal miner, the other a wealthy investor – the film transitions to the present before coming to a close in the year 2025. As time goes by, these same individuals drift in and out of each others’ lives as organically evolving change becomes something of a centerpiece, for better and for worse.
For those familiar with A Touch of Sin, let it be known that his latest is a drastic departure in terms of subjectivity and tone. Mountains May Depart is a wholly accessible yarn steeped in basic human relationships and the ebb and flow of life itself. Shot in three different aspect ratios indicative of the time period in question, Jia’s decidedly slight illustration of each scenario exudes earnest sympathetic vibes that help transcend the banality of the various goings-on.
The nuanced advancement of the narrative from scene to scene feels a bit sluggish given the ordinary disposition of what transpires, however the sensitivity directed toward the film’s subjects is enough to procure and sustain our respective investment levels. With the first two-thirds being entirely enjoyable, viewers will undoubtedly have a hard time transitioning into a final third that features a hokey, English-speaking teenage Dollar and Sylvia Chang’s Mia: Dollar’s teacher and soon-to-be lover. Barring the quality of the central performance, investment rarely dwindles as Dollar’s existential uncertainty as a burgeoning adult rounds out the platter of life’s messiness that the film employs as its thematic through line.
It’s easy to pinpoint why Mountains May Depart‘s existence as an ostensibly run-of-the-mill character drama could earn a fair share of detractors. The success of Jia’s latest is immediately contingent upon our respective investment levels and, despite a palpable earnestness and uniqueness of presentation from segment to segment, what transpires consciously sidesteps melodrama to remain low key albeit effective. There’s little to read into, but to be honest, this slice of unfettered human interconnectivity through the times hit nearly all the right notes despite the predictably varying quality of its entirety.
This year’s festival circuit has yielded quite the crop of talent. From reemerging masters to fledgling auteurs, this fall season has me itching to see what many already have. I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers as I steadfastly compiled a list of what I’d most like to see at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival, of which begins this Thursday with two back-to-back screenings of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. I’ll be attending the earlier of the two thanks to the convenience offered by my work schedule, and throughout the ten days that follow I’ll be seeing an additional fourteen films. Part of me is questioning my resolve in relation to the task at hand, then again I live here and am offered the luxury of being able to space these screenings out accordingly to much of my own excitement. I invite you to peruse my full schedule below as well as my list ranking of everything I’ve seen this year thus far here.