West of the Tracks, Part I: Rust
(Tie Xi Qu)

Directed by Wang Bing.
China, 2003, digital video, color, 224 min.
Mandarin with English subtitles.

Wang’s astonishing first film is a moving and engrossing chronicle of the slow, sinking death of the factory towns in China’s Northeast Shenyang province as their aging foundries are quietly abandoned by the state and a way of life is extinguished. Armed with only a handheld DV camera, Wang invents remarkable yet understated camera movements and compositions to capture both the grueling factory work and the anxious waiting time that gradually takes over the workers’ lives. Despite its four hour length, Rust somehow remains as gripping from its first to last minute by giving equal space to the vivid dangers of the factory and the quiet moments in the workers’ break rooms – and most notably during a forced hospital retreat – where their fears of unemployment and their suddenly uncertain future begin to cast dark shadows. Rust’s fascination with the choreography of Man and Machine gives way to moments of intense beauty that at times recalls the structural films of sculptor Richard Serra.

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