China is the biggest coal consuming nation in the world. These mining efforts have a serious and permanent impact on the land and the people that work in the mines. Director Zhao Liang examines this industry up close in his film Behemoth.
An explosion rocks the ground and surrounding area in the films opening shot. Next heavy machinery rolls across the ground negotiating around the mining space. The earth is trampled, toiled and moved in pursuit of the mineral target. A space that was once green with vegetation and full of healthy animals living in a balanced ecosystem is now filled with mining holes, hills of displaced soil and plumes of smoke and dust. The Sheppards remain with their flocks but have smaller parcels of land each day to maintain their heard. The dominant group of humans are the migrant workers who toil in the mines coming home each night exhausted and covered in coal dust that they try to wash off but a little less seems to come free from their skin with each passing day.
Zhao next trains his lens on the ironworks industry as the narrative follows a group of workers that spend their days in scalding hot conditions breathing in tiny metal particles that slowly destroys their lungs and become in-bedded in their exposed skin. It's in this sequence that Zaho's narrative link to Dante literary work jumps to life. One powerful segment is of a long close up on one of the workers where the viewer sees the little chunks of silver particles scattered across the workers face. The piece follows these workers home to their sparce living conditions and to the local hospital where many are fitted for oxygen faced with the knowledge that they most will likely not reach their sixtieth birthday.
Zhao wraps up his study with a segment on the growing number of ghosts towns in China. Sprawling cities with high risers, brand new roads, shiny traffic lights and street signs but no inhabitants. Here we follow a work tasks with cleaning up the roads and sidewalks in a town where no one lives.
Behemoth points out the totally destructive effect on humans and environment alike due to China rush to modernize and industrialize at a lightning fast pace. The end goal of profit and dollars seem to justify the heavy human and environmental toll of this march toward progress Director Zhao weaves in a stage play element with each sequence featuring a naked man normally in the fetal position as a transition device. The references to the old testament based title and Dante's work drive home the literary elements of the piece. Visually stunning images appear one after another in the three distinct chapters from the exhausted lands of eastern Mongolia, to the claustrophobic Ironworks setting ending on the hollow streets of the ghost town. Banned in its home country the film is a powerful production that I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4.
Behemoth | Zhao Liang | China / France | 2015 | 95 Minutes.
Tag; Mining, Eastern Mongolia, Sheppard, Black Lung, Iron Works, Ghost Town