To Live 活着 (1994) - Women Pt.1
No matter how lucky a person is, the moment he decides he wants to die, nothing will keep him alive.
Director: Zhang Yimou
Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Part of: Fifth Generation Films
It is up to the viewer how to interpret this film. Whether it be the State or forces of Nature that administer the protagonist's, Fugui’s, trajectory of fate - what can be certain in To Live is the extraordinary human capacity to endure and survive despite the hardships dealt by life’s harsh hand.
Just as we follow Fugui’s character transformation from a bourgeois idler to a citizen committed to family and State, his wife, Jiazhen, also undergoes a transformation. A pillar of morality and strength throughout, she must adapt alone from her noble life to one of poverty and scrape together the means to support her children while her husband is away fighting in the Civil War in the late 1940s.
Zhang Yimou uses Jiazhen’s female character to epitomise suffering. We often see her tear-streaked face at the focus of a shot, isolated in great pools of natural light. This accentuates the raw pathos of her suffering and leaves a lasting impression of the difficulties that she and her family must endure.
Her daughter, Fengxia, is another symbol of stoicism, her physical and metaphorical muteness making the scene of her death especially tragic. She dies from a haemorrhage in silent agony, manifested by the shocking chromatic relationship between her red blood against white hospital sheets. Her death can be seen as a fruitless sacrifice, a product of the tumultuous historical background of the period.
Redolent of Daoist and biopolitical theories, the fluctuations between fortune and misfortune in To Live leave the characters undeterred, having what Brian Eggert calls ‘an easy-going relationship with fate’. They show that the family unit shall prevail despite the universe’s capriciousness, and that the undying human spirit will pass on through survivors and newborns alike.
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