Equally to his debut “Girl of the Harbor”, Sean Wang’s sophomore documentary “A Marble Travelogue” which premiered on the IDFA, research the connection between China and Greece. This time, nonetheless, he decides to observe the journey of commodities between each nations, and extra exactly, that of Greece’s largest exports – marble.
From the opening seconds, the artificiality of the world we see in “A Marble Travelogue” engulfs us. At instances, particularly in the direction of the center when the director’s lens turns to China, we can not however surprise if we’re watching an elaborate mockumentary. And as a lot as we would attempt telling ourselves that these surreally faux locations are actual, on a unconscious degree, we nonetheless can’t settle for it. A temple that appears like halves of two temples, one Chinese language, one European, sloppily glued collectively, or a Paris-cum-Amsterdam in rural China merely can not exist. Can’t be actual. However they’re, although we really feel like they shouldn’t.
The synthetic and kitschy aberrations proven within the majority of documentary, Eiffel Tower subsequent to European-looking castles in a smog-filled Chinese language village, rows of Venus de Milo in entrance of a kitschy palace-cum-museum handle to shock, even shock us, as a result of although they exist inside time and area, we merely can not join what our eyes see with what we all know concerning the world we reside in. This all creates a really surreal expertise, at instances extremely unnerving and uncomfortable.
This sense is additional helped by the way in which Wang chooses to shoot his movies. Each shot is meticulous and aesthetically pleasing, but barren and unreal. The colours pop, the picture is extremely sharp, the distinction is unbelievable. And inside all of this, there’s nearly no human presence, or at the least, there’s little or no of it. It’s as if these locations are pictures from horror film units than precise inhabited areas. That is additional strengthened by Wang’s option to pay tribute to totally different horror motion pictures inside his documentary, most notable of which is the tricycle scene from “The Shining.” This time, nonetheless, as an alternative of a haunted lodge, it’s set in an equally disturbing wholesale mall specializing in vacationer trinkets, most notable for our dialogue, marble fridge magnets. Is that this place haunted by the ghost of neoliberalism and consumerism?, the director appears to say.
“A Marble Travelogue” isn’t utterly devoid of human presence, although. Relatively, when an individual seems, be it a Chinese language grasp sculptor or a employee in one of many seemingly infinite factories for vacationer issues, he by no means appears to suit their environments. The explanation for that is primarily the truth that they appear to be regular, even considerably provincial, individuals who appear extra at house in a traditional house someplace slightly than in these imposing sumalcra.
The one ones who appear at house on the surreal kitsch shot by Wang are the Greek twins Marianna and Sofia Erotokritou. Impossibly faux always, they behave just like the world is a YouTube video and they’re its stars. Fluent in Chinese language, they seem in numerous occasions across the nation, selling Greece and sweet-talking the Chinese language nouveau riche to put money into Greece. As we see by means of the film, nothing within the nation appears to be off-limits for the wealthy – from Greek weddings to Orthodox baptism ceremonies achieved for the digital camera. So long as there’s cash, something is feasible, even promoting your individual nation off, the twins fortunately indicate.
At its core, nonetheless, “A Marble Travelogue” is a film about human greed and the destruction persons are prepared to inflict on nature and others, simply to allow them to have cash. Thus, the film traces the spacial and hierarchical motion of the dear valued rock. By area, it travels from Greece, and as we later be taught, different locations on earth, to the largest stone market on the planet. Earlier, it was in USA, now it’s in China, we be taught from a slimy French businessman. And from there – to totally different provincial cities the place it adorns gaudy mansions within the type of pseudo-European columns and statues, or again to the lands of its origins within the type of souvenirs or kitschy sculptures. The latter, importantly, are by no means by no means signed by their Chinese language creators, all the time bought below a faux European title. This final truth, talked about in passing by a well-known Chinese language sculptor, speaks volumes concerning the commodification of artwork, in addition to the faux pretense behind it. The up to date world, which is supposedly globalized and open to arts from in all places, isn’t. It’s nonetheless caught in its outdated methods, the place all the things made within the west is taken into account greatest. The irony and unhappiness, Wang says, is that nothing is made there. It’s all made by and acquired by China.
This brings us to the second kind of journey, the hierarchical one. Aside from the palaces of the wealthy, it additionally goes to the small factories the place it’s floor and made into fridge magnets and different such trinkets. In a surprisingly humane for this film scene, the director speaks with a small lady, working in one among these factories, providing to present her his masks, so she doesn’t get sick from the mud and paint fumes that fill the air of her office. Unsurprisingly, she declines his supply, even questioning a bit why would he even need to give her protecting gear. Nowhere else within the movie does he converse together with his topics. To be extra precise, nowhere else does he deal with them in a humane means. And as we be taught by the top of the documentary, they don’t deserve it for all of them, from the Greek twins to the French stone vendor are nothing greater than abusers, each of Earth and the poor.