"If the old doesn't go, the new never comes" recites a teenager hanging out near a demolition site in the center of Chengdu, the Sichuan capital in western China. In Demolition, filmmaker J.P. Sniadecki deconstructs the transforming cityscape by befriending the migrant laborers on the site and documenting the honest, often unobserved, human interactions, yielding a wonderfully patient and revealing portrait of work and life in the shadow of progress and economic development.
With delicate attention to form, the first part of the film comments on the raucous visual and aural space of the worksite; the dulling repetition of physical labor, the chaos of liberated metal rods and dirt, and the uncanniness of the human-machine relationship. Sniadecki then shifts focus from the demolition to the demolishers—following them as they work, eat, and go out at night—merging observational cinema, impromptu interviews, and the diverse reactions elicited by his own presence.
Recorded one year after his previous film Songhua (2006), about the relationship between Harbin residents and their "mother river," Demolition is a candid and poetic addition to Sniadecki's visual studies of Chinese subcultures. Embracing the inescapable power of a camera to change the behavior of its subjects, Sniadecki astutely explores these ramifications in a film that clearly considers the lives of the workers more compelling than the intangible product of their labor.
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