Dir: Zhao Liang. Documentary. 95 mins. No cert.
Zhao Liang’s haunting documentary tessellates with Jia Zhang-ke’s recent films in studying the effects of China’s rapid industrialisation upon the landscape. Words sourced from Dante float over images of everyday activity at one Inner Mongolian coalmine; as the camera descends into its depths, it becomes apparent we’re several fathoms beyond conventional health-and-safety regulation. Zhao’s close-ups of faces – bathed in sweat, caked with carbons – are as expressive and dynamic as his longshots of fiery smelting yards and mountains being blasted into oblivion: here is a labour that cannot possibly be rebranded. Sporadic digital manipulations, sculpting this region’s exteriors into jagged Cubist mosaics, might be interpreted as cheats, striking though they are. There is, however, no retouching the poverty inhabited by the mine’s employees, their blisters and varicose veins, their unblinking effort. What this exceptionally lucid film-survey reveals is what has to go on at ground level, and beneath the surface, in order to power a powerhouse.
Behemoth is now playing in selected cinemas.