This monochromatic horror show is steeped in death but is alive to any vestige of humanity that Lu can sift from the pyre. Few war films have accomplished so much.”
City of Life and Death is an extremely moving and devastating film. Based on a true story, it is both original and heartbreaking. Chuan Lu's ability to allow his audience to experience the war from both sides is the mark of a gifted artist. It is a complex and event packed era in history, not easy to jam into a mere 132 minutes of screen time, but Lu shows us why he's considered one of this generation's top directors.
From an artistic standpoint Lu's film is extraordinary. The camera work is clever, well thought out, and very well executed. There are a number of incredible hand held shots with difficult multiple rack focus' giving you the perspective of somebody deep in the terrifying trenches of the war following every move of both the soldiers and the civilians.
Working with a very shallow depth of field Lu speaks clearly to the audience, asking them exactly what to focus on. Many of the most horrific depictions are deliberately out of focus pushing our imaginations to the edge, increasing the level of devastation.
Lu brings together an incredibly talented cast that never makes you feel like you're watching a performance. Instead, they pull you through from one side of the war to the other: flawlessly through one perspective to the next.
Some of the scenes are down right haunting and raw. Without saying too much, the scene where the women, one by one, raise their hands and the scene where the man covers the boy's eyes are particularly gut wrenching, and once again the camera work is exquisite.
The editing and music are careful and well placed and the set design is eerie and real. The sound design (something many directors unfortunately don't give near enough consideration) is very well thought out and adds immensely to the depth of emotion of the scenes, and proves essential to the development of the characters.
The film does feel a little long but that's perhaps due to the relentless, heartbreaking content.
Lu lays it out before you never shying away from the details and yet keeping that fine balance between getting the message across and hammering it home.
It is an epic story he is telling, to say the least, and the chapter is not yet closed as we find out in the closing credits when we discover that the young boy depicted in the film is, in real life, alive and well to this day.
If you have the heart for it, City of Life and Death is well worth the time, and a film you will likely remember for years to come.
check Vancity Theatre for show times, July 22 through 28