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Non-Review Review: Ash is Purest White

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

There’s something strangely hypnotic in Zhangke Jia’s Ash is Purest White.

The film is a (quasi-) love story stretched across seventeen years and told in a set of three vignettes as the lives of the lead characters intersect in a rapidly-changing China. There’s an epic sweep to Zhangke Jia’s otherwise intimate narrative, a tale of two characters whose circumstances are constantly changing but who very clearly exist in orbit of one another. At one point, Qiao describes herself as a “prisoner of the universe”, and there seems to be some truth in that. No matter what happens, no matter how far she travels, a rubber band always seems to snap back. Indeed, Ash is Purest White has a compelling symmetry to it, the first and final third reflecting one another and suggesting that no matter how hard the characters might push, they’ll end up back where they started.

There is an endearing dreamlike quality to Ash is Purest White, a sense of mood that runs through the film’s two hours and seventeen minutes. At one point in the middle section of the film, a supporting character monologues at length about the idea of unidentified flying objects reported in the skies above the region. It’s a strange intersection for what began as a crime-inflected love story about gang violence, but even stranger for how Ash is Purest White commits to this strange metaphysical tangent. Shortly after this conversation, Qiao has her own experience of mysteries wonder in the haunted skies over the region. a strangely moving and almost spiritual sequence.

Ash is Purest White is full of these sorts of images and moments, beats that capture the weirdness and eccentricity of life, and the strange beauty to be found in the smallest of pleasures.

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