Milwaukee Film Festival 2016: Mountains May Depart
By Andrea Thompson
Movies trying to be epic risk epic failure, and the Chinese film “Mountains May Depart” falls into the latter category. It tries, it really does. The movie explores the life of Tao (Tao Zhao, in an amazing performance) during three periods. The first part shows her torn between her two male friends in China in 1999, while the second shows her in 2014 as well-off, but divorced, alone, and increasingly estranged from her young son. The final part mostly takes place in Australia, and follows her son as he (very) slowly realizes his need to reconnect with his mother and his home country. The actors are the best part of this rather dull exercise, especially Tao Zhao, as she effortlessly infuses her character with youthful optimism, then middle-aged resignation, and finally, peaceful old age. The two men who pursued her are eventually consumed by very different brands of bitterness, but hers is a more serene acceptance of what she cannot change, imbued by a quiet strength. If only we saw Tao more as herself, a complete whole, rather than just following her when whatever male character has priority in her life is present. Even worse, “Mountains May Depart” shows no signs of warranting the epic treatment; the movie would actually be much improved with some very heavy, very skilled editing. It doesn't completely diminish writer-director Zhangke Jia's desperate plea for a slower world rather than a lost one, but it sure comes close.