Mountains May Depart is the type of work that sets a high watermark for cinema. It’s a film that portrays the cause and effect of our decisions, and how those results can carry through years – even decades – with growth and regret. Jia Zhang-Ke’s film is reminiscent of the equally exceptional The Place Beyond the Pines, only Zhang-Ke is less interested in suspense and more focused on psychology.
The film begins in 1999 as three friends are living in the moment. The elephant in the room, however, is the developing love triangle involving the girl of the group, Tao (played by Tao Zhao), and the other two men, Zhang and Liangzi (played by Yi Zhang and Jing Dong Liang). The tension finally bubbles and spills with fingers being pointed and things being said that cannot be taken back.
The film time travels to 2014, and then even further in the final act – a relatable yet slightly advanced 2025. The years flow with filmmaking competence while tiny details help define each era. Different shooting formats and aspect ratios come into play, while an emphasis is made with how technology evolves.
Just as our characters stop listening to music on state-of-the-art stereos and adapt to 2025’s slim plexiglass tablet, change is evidently accepted despite personal contradictions or selfishness. When a child is brought into the film, he becomes less acquainted to his heritage when he moves away from China and is taught English during his youth. The father, once an arrogant high roller, has to face life. The challenge is how does he interpret this as anything other than succumbing to disappointment. While the choices in the film are not always this heavy, they hold equivalent resonance.
Mountains May Depart shows us that with each connection we make matters in some way or another. We may never see certain people again, but their influence exists in fleeting moments of déja vu or opportunities gained or loss. Jia Zhang-Ke, with diligent brilliance, knows when to utilize key characters and when to allow the story (which he also wrote) to linger on each reaction.
Mountains May Depart is an excellent film that holds significance – and our attention – for the duration of this generationally relevant story.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie