Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 11, 2019 4:30 pm 
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A film about the phenomenon of "live-streaming" in China

Documentary can be both voyeuristic and boring, and such is the case with Shengze Zhu's Present. Perfect., a film that documents the craze for "live-streaming" in China, said to have peaked in 2016, when the government moved in to set some limits. This is an online combination of exhibitionism, or simply self-vérité documentation, where the "anchor" hooks up with a site where others can connect and ask questions or make donations.

We get several young men with artful hair, one of them a would-be street dancer (he's not at all good). An attractive young woman with a child who works in a factory making men's underwear films herself both there and at home. She explains that she only does it when her boss is not there. A man with deformed extremities who begs on the street simultaneously takes donations online and talks. A thirty-year-old man who describes himself as "sexually undeveloped" and unable to have children answers questions from many locations and takes donations. He describes having been bullied at school, then a recluse, now, through this medium, having acquired the ability to go in some sort out in the world. So live streaming has given him a life, of sorts. He giggles delightedly as he answers the many questions.

This is a medium for lonely and unfortunate people, or is as we see it here, at any rate. Aren't YouTube videos a form of live streaming, in a way? And then isn't the fame of vloggers-become celebrities like Charlie McDonnell of "CharlieIsSoCoolLike" a form of this? Isn't even Justin Bieber an ultimate example? But isn't it just that "live-streaming" is a "career open to talents" that's, instead, a "career open to the untalented"? At the end of this over-long film there is extended footage of what appears to be an ant colony, while the voiceover talks to us about cockroaches. But it is interesting - and shows that for someone with imagination and focus, "live-streaming" could actually become instructive. And probably often is - only not mostly, and not during the craze for it in China documented here.

Present. Perfect., 124 mins., debuted at Rotterdam Jan. 2019, also showing at (FICUNAM - Festival Internacional de Cine UNAM) Mar. 3. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-FSLC 2019 series, New Directors New Films.

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