Shot in 1990 by Ruiz and completed after his death by Sarmiento. It’s political satire sketch-comedy… short films roughly stitched together – self-consciously artificial soap-opera episodes which sometimes comment on the nature of their own unreality (and/or other soap operas). Long takes with some purposeful camera moves. I enjoy the crazy directions the movie took without following most of the Chilean political references. Unlike the Oliveira, I wonder if this one’s message suffered from being released two decades late – you’d have to ask a Chilean. I also get the feeling from the subtitles that the characters’ impenetrable conversations are full of puns or language jokes. Ruiz mentions pirates, of course, brings up veils a bunch of times, shoots the actors and character-actors and actor-characters and apparitions, zombies and TV sets with his usual wild variety of camera setups and bizarre lighting.

If you don’t count the live version of Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, this is the first 2017 Locarno competition film I’ve seen. Not gonna try to parse all the actors, many of whom played multiple roles, but they include the dead guy in A Fantastic Woman, someone from Tres Tristes Tigres, and at least one actual soap star.

Day 1: a woman is cheating on her older husband Humberto with his brother Antonio, is always concerned that “people” are watching them, but seems barely concerned when the husband walks in.

Day 3: two dudes pretending to drive a car get shot, the assassins arrive to drop off their proclamation and they get shot, their killers show up with a new proclamation, get shot, etc.

Day 4: “For those who’ve just arrived, nothing happens in this soap opera. All we do is watch other soap operas and comment on them.”

Day 5: A stranger getting help with his car reveals that his name starts with an H, gets invited to the “Those with an H” bar, where they discuss… soap operas.

Memorial screening for Jerry Lewis. I’d never seen this, didn’t realize it’s semi-plotless, casting a mute Jerry as one of many bellboys at a luxury hotel and throwing him into situations. Apparently hastily written and shot in the Miami hotel where he was performing at the time. And it shows… half the jokes are lazy or awful, though it’s short and overall pleasant enough.

Also featuring Jerry as himself, Milton Berle as himself, both of them as lookalike bellboys, and Lewis’s future cowriter Bill Richmond as a fake Stan Laurel. It’s a strange movie. I feel bad having so little to say about it, but maybe you had to have suffered through the studio comedies of the 1940’s and 1950’s to appreciate its innovations.

Two motorbike rebels meet at the site of a tomato-truck accident: Dahai (seen on the movie poster with a shotgun) and Fuzzy Hat San’er, who kills a few illegal toll-takers a few minutes prior. First let’s follow Dahai (Jiang Wu of Shower and To Live), who is openly contemptuous of his corrupt bosses at the coal mine, finally confronting the big boss himself, at which point Dahai gets his ass whupped on an airport runway. Doesn’t take long for Dahai to heal up, collect himself, and take brutal shotgun-revenge on his bosses plus anyone who gets in his way. It’s about the most blunt anti-corruption half-hour screed I’ve seen, showing the problem then proposing a swift solution – and coming from arthouse slowpoke Jia it’s pretty shocking.

It’s an episodic movie, but more interconnected through characters, locations and themes than something like Wild Tales. In a larger city, Fuzzy Hat (Wang Baoqiang of Blind Shaft and Romancing in Thin Air) has money troubles, and a solution: purse-snatching and murder. Xiaoyu (Zhao Tao, just seen in I Wish I Knew) can’t get her boyfriend to leave his wife, goes to work as a receptionist at a masseuse parlor and when some drunken dudes assume they can buy her, she cuts them up. Young Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan) has shitty luck in the workplace and jumps out his window.

Zhao Tao, never more badass:

A. Cook:

The film paints a bleak picture of modern China for the people in a position of powerlessness. Setting each story in a different region of the country further illustrates this sense of widespread exploitation … Each act of violence is a tragic climax in the lives of the characters who can take no more of the injustices that surround them.

R. Koehler in Cinema Scope:

Jia is sending out an early signal that his film is directed from and for a cathartic response, and as we observe his four characters across four segments — roughly traversing a geographic line across the Mainland from north to south and through the seasons — they operate out of gut instinct and momentary impulse. The contemplative young intellectual artists of Platform are long gone — or likely, by now in the new China, have sold out — and in their place are desperate people doing what they need to do to survive.

Fuzzy Hat and his neglected son:

Marie-Pierre Duhamel:

The last two shots of the film show Zhao Tao’s Xiaoyu watching an ancient representation of her destiny, and the audience of the opera looking into camera. The audience is looking at the audience. This is what consistency is about in Jia’s world: to lyrically recreate reality as a folk singer improvises a ballad, so that the untold stories come to light, and that everyone hopefully remembers them and sings along.

Her essay at Mubi puts the movie in essential context. It seems the most obvious of Jia’s films – I don’t mean that as an insult, since I felt the others all went over my stupid head – but even so, there’s so much depth I missed. And of course the film looks as splendid as Jia’s others, which is what keeps me watching them even when I don’t know what they’re about. Won best screenplay at Cannes, the year of Blue is the Warmest Color, Only Lovers Left Alive and Inside Llewyn Davis.