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Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2002)
15 Hours (2017)
He Fengming (2017)
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Crude Oil (2008)
TOWARDS A NEW CRITICAL REALISM. The critical realist cinema of Wang Bing.

Fellow: Camille Bourgeus

Supervisor: Tom Paulus

Duration: 01/10/2017 - 20/10/2021

Funded by F.W.O. (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - Vlaanderen)

This project aims to position contemporary Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing at the center of the debate on new forms of realism in film. Wang Bing is celebrated worldwide as the most important documentary filmmaker of the past decade, yet his work has still to receive proper academic study in the West. His style is geared towards a detailed and slow-paced documentation of people living in the margins of Chinese post-socialist society. My aim is double: to explore the critical significance of Wang’s cinema at the level of his specific aesthetic choices and, second, to elucidate these core properties within the context of a perceived ‘new realist’ turn in contemporary art cinema and through comparison with two filmmakers, the first European the second Chinese, Belgian cinéaste Chantal Akerman and Wang’s contemporary Jia Zhangke. The degree to which these filmmakers put their faith in the real and attach value to materiality and testimony returns us to Marxist philosopher and literary historian Georg Lukács’ theorization of the representation of a ‘social totality’ as found in 19th century realist novels of Tolstoy and Balzac. In order to understand this turn to the real in contemporary film and in Wang’s work in particular, I will reconsider the concept of ‘critical realism’ as it was originally put forward by Lukács, while at the same time weighing his original insights against the recent writings on politics in film and art by the French Post-Marxist philosopher Jacques Rancière.

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