Chung Kuo – China
(Chung Kuo – Cina)

Screening on Film
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni .
Italy , 1972, 35mm, color, 210 min.
Italian and Mandarin with English subtitles .
Print source: Cinecittà Luce

At the height of his international fame, Antonioni's career took an unexpected and extraordinary detour, a sudden return to his early roots in documentary poetics occasioned by a commission from the Chinese government to make a documentary portrait of post-Cultural Revolution China.  In accepting the daunting project, Antonioni almost seemed to embrace the Chinese authorities' censorship of where and what he could film, declaring his desire to capture the official image and imagination of China. In the film itself these restrictions were retrospectively acknowledged as both a challenge and an obstacle, acknowledged both in the film's introduction and its often wry voice-over narration. Antonioni skillfully edited the massive bounty of footage gathered from three weeks of continuous filming into a three-part epic which journeys from Beijing to the rural countryside and factory towns, capturing the striking and at times precarious balance between new and old China. Antonioni's impatience at the draconian control imposed upon him and his crew is further legible in those scenes caught on hidden cameras, or the now famous episode where he broke away from his entourage to film a clandestine black market. Although it received a celebrated premiere on Italian television, Chung Kuo was immediately denounced by the Chinese government as "anti-Communist" and not screened in China until thirty-two years later. Rarely exhibited or discussed today, Antonioni's legendary documentary is a fascinating voyage into the heart of Communist China.

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