Brings viewers into a small Chinese city and inspires familiarity with the rhythms of everyday existence, with people's dreams, shortcomings and illusions in a way that is universal.
A film of astonishing beauty and heartbreaking impact, Peacock heralds the emergence of a major new Chinese director.
Gu Changwei is best known as the cinematographer of many of the founding masterworks of the Chinese Fifth Generation of filmmakers, including Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993), and Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou (1989). Peacock, his first film as director, is a large-scale period piece, a look back at China at the end of the Cultural Revolution.
The film tells three consecutive stories, each from the point of view of one of three siblings who grew up in a very troubled family. The sister – in a great performance that should make a major star of newcomer Zhang Jingchu – is a dreamy misfit imprisoned in a drab life ruled by uncomprehending, soul-crushing parents. Her compensatory fantasies of rhapsodic escape and her desperate struggle for some kind of spiritual survival give the film its emotional, passionate heart. The stories of her mentally handicapped but ultimately pragmatic older brother (Feng Li), and her dreamily nihilistic younger brother (Lu Yulai) fill out the narrative. The three siblings’ stories intertwine in vivid tableaus of romance, work, sex, music, and family. The whole is knit together by Gu and cinematographer Yang Shu’s gift for creating formally breathtaking framings and perfectly beautiful images.
This is not a nostalgia piece for an unrecoverable imaginary past. Rather, it is deeply committed to catching a moment of disappearance, when China, emerging from the collectivized chaos of the Cultural Revolution, seems to offer opportunities to create private identities and construct individual worlds. The film balances a devotion to the deeply weird beauty of these newly possible private spaces, while at the same time acknowledging the desperate sadness of their fragility and evanescence.