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To Live
The NAU Film Series presents "To Live" Tuesday at 7 p.m. at NAU's Cline Library. The movie was banned in China because of its "implied political content." (Courtesy photo)

'To Live" (Huozhe) is the first Chinese language film to be shown in the College of Arts and Letters Film Series in recent years.

Produced in 1994, the film was banned in China because of its implied political content. As punishment for its negative portrayal of a recent period in Chinese history, the director, Zhang Yimou, and his wife Gong Li, the lead actress in the film, were banned by the Beijing authorities for two years from filmmaking.

The film is a frank examination of mid-20th century China covering four decades. "To Live" moves from the heady 1940s when the old class system flourished, through the fierce hardships of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, to the transitional period of the 1970s. The powerful story follows a family whose lives are bound up in the political twists and turns that took place during this dynamic time. We watch with sympathy and understanding as they both prosper and suffer through bizarre twists and tragic losses. With hope for the future they struggle to endure and desire only, as the title suggests -- to live.

The director, Zhang, is probably best known in this country for his creation of the Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies. If you saw those events with their spectacle and complex organization, you'll have an appreciation for Zhang's abilities to envision human action on a grand scale, and to select and create scenes that have deep emotional impact. From quiet intimate scenes between two or three people, to epic scenes of battle and mob chaos, this film sweeps across the cities and vast terrain of China.

Because of the film's strong yet vulnerable characters who get caught up in the sweep of historical events, The New York Observer has called this film "a Chinese 'Gone With the Wind.'"

Zhang began making films in the late 1980s and became known as part of China's "Fifth Generation" of filmmakers, a group who began to work in cinema after the Cultural Revolution. Willing to test the constraints imposed by Communist censorship, Zhang took risks in his early films with a frank depiction of the dark side of life among the small rural communities of China. "Red Sorghum," "Ju Dou," "Qiu Ju Goes to Court" and "Raise the Red Lantern" are a few of his titles that have been available in the U.S.

In these films, the portrayal of the traditional Chinese way of life challenges the broadly publicized notions that the progressive Communists would like the world to believe. In place of collective cooperation leading to prosperity and health, these films depict conflict, suffering, and disappointment.

Zhang prefers to honor the spirit and will of common Chinese men and women rather than a system of societal organization -- whether Communist or feudal -- that promises but fails to deliver peace and security.

In recent years he has created a new benchmark for the martial arts film with "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Through innovative technology and highly dramatic scripts, he has turned physical violence into picturesque ballet and made romantic heroism and operatic scenery elements that Hollywood has eagerly imitated.

This is a rare opportunity to see a modern film by one of the world's great directors that has never been shown in a Flagstaff theater.

The introduction and discussion will be led by one of NAU's visiting scholar/students from Beijing. Shown with English subtitles, the film is sure to provoke a new understanding and appreciation for China.

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