Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s essay on art and mechanical reproduction, Xiaolu Guo‘s latest essay film is a playful relay of narratives around the real and the copied, authentic experience and the search for meaning, set in London and Shenzhen.
A Chinese artisan, in Dafen village near Shenzhen in Southern China, reproduces Caravaggios by hand (John in the Wilderness, aka Saint John the Baptist). His studio is his home, and his family all participate in varying ways in the cottage industry of reproducing western art for western consumers. In London, an Italian poet unveils the Chinese painter’s copy, which he has received as a 40th birthday gift. The poet sees a youthful image of himself in the work, but he fears the copy does not capture the real essence of the original. His philosopher friend, formerly an amateur painter, says he can repaint the copy.
The film then follows the poet, the philosopher—repainting the copy—and two other friends, an Eritrean writer, who spurns all religion but yearns for artistic redemption, and a French photographer, whose nude wilderness self-portraits echo the Caravaggio masterpiece. Each friend has some link to the painting and its theme of wilderness and wandering. The events in London are paralleled with a slice of life depiction of the Chinese artisan’s family in Shenzhen, reproducing John in the Wilderness and dreaming of a better life. This documentary tries to explore the polymorphous nature of images in a world of reproduction, and interconnections between people in different worlds joined by these images.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Xiaolu Guo.
Part of Not Just Me but You Too: Cinemas of Sisterhood, April 2019 – March 2020.
This year-long season of films, entirely by women and gender non-binary filmmakers, covers artists’ and experimental film, documentary and essay film, alongside filmmaker appearances, readings, discussion and guest speakers. Expect programmes dedicated to particular makers, themed programmes with contemporary artists and celebrations of key feminist thinkers, all in dialogue with Pages Cheshire Street, a new independent bookshop dedicated to women and non-binary writers.
One of the most distinctive figures in world literature and cinema, the multi-award winning Chinese writer and film-maker Xiaolu Guo has, over the last 20 years, crafted a singular body of film work, covering short and artist’s film, documentary, essay and fiction features, and her films have premiered at Locarno, Sundance, Toronto and Venice, among many other festivals. Tracking her own experience living between a radically changed China and the West, Guo’s films explore marginalised lives in transit across a globalised world.
This first complete retrospective presents all her films, and Guo will be present at each screening, throughout May.
Read a career interview with Xiaolu Guo here.
Xiaolu Guo is a Chinese British filmmaker and novelist. A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy and the UK National Film and Television School, she has worked both in Europe and China in cinema and literature. She is one of the inaugural fellows of the Columbia Institute of Ideas and Imagination in Paris and a jury member for the Man Booker Prize 2019. Her feature films include She, a Chinese (Golden Leopard Award, Locarno Film Festival 2009), How Is Your Fish Today? (official selection, Sundance Film Festival 2006, Tiger Award Special Mention, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Grand Prix at the International Women’s Film Festival, France) and UFO in Her Eyes (2011, produced by renowned German filmmaker Fatih Akin and premiered at TIFF). Her documentary features include Once Upon A Time Proletarian (Venice Film Festival Official Selection and TIFF 2010); We Went to Wonderland (ND/NF MoMA & Rotterdam International Film Festival 2008); The Concrete Revolution (Grand Prix, International Human Rights Film Festival Paris, Cinema du Reel 2004); Late At Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness (BFI London Film Festival 2013) and Five Men and a Caravaggio (BFI London Film Festival 2018). She is also an award-winning writer with eight novels published by Penguin Random House in the UK, and in Germany.