Up the Mountain

Up the Mountain

Huo shan
2018
126 minutes
Mandarin
Directed by:
Yang Zhang

“Up the Mountain” offers a beguiling, visually gorgeous record of a year in the painting studio of Shen Jianhua in Dali, located in China’s Yunnan Province. Originally from Shanghai, Shen moved to the countryside to teach art and painting to the local Bai women — most of them quite elderly — and the film documents both the fading traditions of the rural community and the impact of a rapidly changing modern China. By turns funny and poignant, the film also explores the dynamics in the master’s family and the developing romance of his painting apprentice, who periodically travels to the kinetic modern city where his fiancée lives, providing a startling contrast to the quiet community where the studio is located. “Up the Mountain” employs a squarish aspect ratio that reflects the dimensions of the canvases used by Shen’s pupils, and the filmmaker’s compositions and the artists’ paintings prove equally striking. Screen International writes: “This lyrical documentary from Zhang Yang is a meditation on beauty. But like the film’s enigmatic central character, artist and teacher Shen Jianhua, Zhang’s lens finds beauty in simplicity. The result is a balm of a film, which channels the quiet wisdom of the central character and of the gang of granny folk artists who learned from him a new means of expression.”

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