Unofficial History

I hang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiv Ju) is the quintessential people’s filmmaker—Just not the right kind for the Chinese authorities, who stifle his films in proportion to the laurels heaped upon them in the West. Those authorities are not about to break the habit with Zhang’s new film, To Live, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. A celebration of one f amily’s resilience from the 1940s through the terrors’of the Cultural Revolution, To Live has an excited, epic energy that was missing in Zhang’s beautiful but static earlier films, though it’s si ill heavv on the symbolism (the father survives by adapting his puppet shows to successive regimes). Zhang tends at times to confuse simplicity with simple-mindedness—his proletarians lean toward the bumpkinish and lack the rich complexity of the characters in Tian Zhuangzhuang’s thematically similar 1993 film, The Blue Kite. But To Live is enormously moving as an homage to the surviva 1 skills, solidarity, nary decency of a people under siege by a cruel and arbitrary government. The movie is lit up by Gong Li, who among her many gifts is willing to do what most Hollywood actresses won’t — p111 her beauty on hold and become plain.