Zhang Yimou in Lumière et Compagnie (1995) :

52 seconds x 9 readings: an exercise in over-interpretation

Illustrations to accompany a paper published in Asian Cinema, volume 10, no. 1, Fall 1998.

Zhang Yimou was one of the 40 directors who agreed to contribute to Lumière et Compagnie. This film is a tribute to Auguste and Louis Lumière, two of the pioneers of cinema, on the 100th anniversary of their invention. The directors, in addition to Zhang,  include Youssef Chahine, Peter Greenaway, and Liv Ullmann. Each directed a very short film, modeled on the Lumières' original movies.

Each director was required to follow four rules:

they must use one of the original, restored Lumière cinematographs (their film camera from 1895)their film was to be exactly 52 seconds long (the length of the original Lumière films)there could be no synchronous soundthey could use no more than three takes


My paper (originally delivered at the Asian Cinema Studies Society Conference, Peterborough, Canada, August 20-23, 1997) can be found in the current issue of the journal Asian Cinema (vol. 10, no. 1, Fall 1998). Here are four screenshots to accompany a description of the action:
No sound. A couple in sumptuous late Qing costume stand on the elevated platform of the Great Wall, mountains and more Wall in the distance behind them. The man plays erhu, the woman beside him dances gracefully with a fan in a classic Chinese opera style.
At 19 seconds, Zhang Yimou darts in from the right of the frame with a clapboard. The soundtrack begins as he claps, and he withdraws.
We hear a contemporary electric guitar strumming, which eventually becomes a barely discernible English rock song. The actors immediately tear off their period costumes, revealing contemporary rocker-youth wear. The man, with very long hair, bare chest, and torn white jeans, picks up an electric guitar and flails away. The woman, in shorts, thigh-length boots, gold waist-chain and midriff-baring top, dances wildly, on her knees, then on her feet, waving her hair and kicking expansively. In addition to the song, we hear someone off-screen counting up every other second, in Chinese, starting at 20.
Someone off-screen shouts "lian dui lian" [face to face], twice. At "si shi si" [44], someone shouts "zou!" [go!], and the actors turn and run away from the camera, along the wall, waving their arms in the air, and disappear over a hill at 50 seconds, when the film ends.

For my over-interpretation, please see the journal.

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