we saw a unique film with a remarkable actress who has no dialogue

With “Caught by the Tides”, Jia Zhangke takes a trip to China from 2001 to 2023 and films both a failed love story and the story of a changing country.

Jia Zhangke’s big return to Cannes

6 years after the superb The Eternals (2018), and after directing the documentary Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020), Jia Zhangke was back at 77th Cannes Film Festival with Caught by the Tides (in competition). With this film, the Chinese director does not change his habits, directing once again Zhao Tao (his wife) in a story in three parts. He tells there the story of a failed loveof a breakup and an attempt to find oneself, in an astonishing journey of 2001 to 2023 through 2006. Which then allows the filmmaker to “show the very essence of what life is like in China” he said at a press conference, and to paint the portrait of a country in permanent reconstruction.

A unique image fusion

He approaches reconstruction in the very form of his film, with a fascinating first part in his image work. The feature film opens (almost) with a group of women who take turns singing popular songs. The staging (camera views and a 4:3 format) gives the impression of a documentary. Then Zhao Tao finally appears, dancing, in a 16:9 format. The actress looks rejuvenated, and that’s the case, as Jia Zhangke used to Caught by the Tides of the rushes of his previous films (the project dates back to 2001). And he finally adds to this archive images from the provinces where the film takes place.

Caught by the Tides ©Ad Vitam

Jia Zhangke mixes these images, even embeds photographs, and thus gives his work a unique and exciting shape. We then no longer know what is true or false, reality or fiction. Even more so when the recording of a surveillance camera begins to merge with the filmmaker’s favorite actress in a grandiose moment. Which does not prevent the latter from showing a certain virtuosity with his camera, as with this long lateral tracking shot which films passers-by in a street, some of whom seem to be amused by the presence of the camera.

Zhao Tao still remarkable

It is in this first part that Caught by the Tides is the most interesting in terms of form. This is also where the music, omnipresent in the film, is the most electrifying, ranging from metal to electro-pop of the 2000s via trip hop, and always with these popular songs sung here and there by unknown people. Music that in a certain way replaces the words of Zhao Tao’s character, which has no dialogue here. Enough to make Anya Taylor-Joy look like a real chatterbox with her 30 lines of dialogue in Furiosa. Which does not prevent Zhao Tao from say a lot through the emotions she transmits and her look. The actress delivers a remarkable performance, as usual.

Zhao Tao – Caught by the Tides ©Ad Vitam

Her character is a woman like any other, who sees her partner leave her overnight, in 2001. The latter needing to find something else, he leaves a city in northern China for an area in the southwest of the country. . It is to this region that Zhao Tao will go next, in the hope of finding him, but will ultimately only wander through streets under construction. This time it is 2006, and China is celebrating winning the 2008 Olympics. A “simple” historical landmark for Jia Zhangke which focuses on the attachment to a love that no longer exists. Or, more generally, on the journey of its entire generation which sees time passes and humanity moves away more and more. Until 2023, during Covid periodwhere masks have replaced faces, and where the robots that occupy shopping centers tirelessly try to communicate.

Caught by the Tides by Jia Zhangke was presented in Official Competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. The film will be released in theaters soon.



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