"The China that I saw is not legendary. It is the human landscape, so different from ours, but so concrete and modern, these are the faces that invaded the screen." Michelangelo Antonioni
In 1972, at the height of the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government invited Michelangelo Antonioni to make a documentary on New China. The filmmaker travels for eight weeks with a film crew to Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai, and the province of Henan. The result is a three-and-a-half-hour monument that travels through China's cities and countryside at a key moment in the twentieth century.
Between two American projects, Antonioni makes a river film. The Maoist party wishes to make of it an imposing panorama which values the blooming faces and the modern industry of the new China. However, the result is quite different and the film creates a scandal in China where it is banned for thirty years. Working despite or against politics, Antonioni simply seeks to describe a diversity of men, gestures and customs, making China – Chung Kuo a great travelogue, resolutely faithful to the intimate exploration of the world.
What can a filmmaker do who is asked to film a country while discovering it? The filming of La Chine – Chung Kuo took place in three weeks, according to a very firm schedule established by the Chinese authorities. However, the reception of the film by the Chinese authorities was catastrophic. An indignation rose against the film, led by Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao, a former film starlet and responsible, within the Cultural Revolution, for the “purification” of the arts. The documentary was banned there – while enjoying wide success outside of China – and official pamphlets against the filmmaker multiplied.
CHINA (1972 – Colors – 208 mins)
DVD EDITION SUPERVISED BY CARLO DI CARLO , COLLABORATOR OF MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI
. THE IMPOSED LOOK (24 mins) Carlo di Carlo, filmmaker and close friend of Antonioni accompanied La Chine–Chung Kuo in 2004 for its first screening in front of a Chinese audience. He looks back on Antonioni's adventures in the face of the Chinese administration, from shooting to the release of the film.
. MAO'S CHINA (26 mins) Antonioni's film was filtered by the Chinese authorities during its shooting. However, what does it show us about the China of 1972? Pierre Haski, former correspondent for Liberation in Beijing and co-founder of Rue89 , makes the political, economic and social link between Antonioni's contemporary China and that of today.