The man is not successful black. He is successful thing astatine all. Wearing his nakedness calmly, for illustration a truth truthful evident it requires nary explanation, an 86-year-old Chinese antheral stands up slow successful nan different quiet assemblage of Paris’ celebrated Bouffes du Nord theatre. The artfully peeling, faded-grandeur interior, dim but for gathered pools of lukewarm light, booms pinch nan sound of his woody spot swinging backmost into place, past pinch nan creaks of nan floorboards nether his bare feet. This is nan arresting opening to Chinese documentarian Wang Bing’s other Cannes 2023 film, “Man successful Black,” a task truthful diametrically different from his Competition introduction “Youth: Spring” that it feels difficult to in installments them some to nan aforesaid person. Perhaps we shouldn’t. This little but profoundly moving movie represents specified a consummate collaboration betwixt director, cinematographer, editor and taxable that its authorship could beryllium recorded arsenic a four-way tie.
Short wherever “Youth” is long; elegiac wherever “Youth” is observational; a burnished, pared-back sculpture wherever “Youth” is simply a activity of surfeit and assembly, “Man successful Black” tin astir easily, if inadequately, beryllium described arsenic a biographical archive connected Wang Xilin, a modern classical composer who endured 14 years of persecution — including beatings, torture and imprisonment — aft falling retired of favour pinch nan Chinese Communist Party. He past lived done galore consequent years of ostracization by authorities forces that were some threatened by and covetous of his increasing nationalist and world estimation arsenic an creator of exceptional integrity and virtuosity.
But you tin cognize nary of this for nan first 3rd of “Man successful Black,” which is initially an absurd experience. Wang Xilin sidles on nan assemblage and descends a stairwell to a abrupt detonation of music, arsenic 1 of his singular compositions bursts onto nan soundtrack for illustration a activity crashing against a tide wall. The activity recedes arsenic he steps onto nan theater’s unadorned stage, moving from spotlit spot to spotlit spot enacting a unusual dance, portrayed pinch a fluidity that owes overmuch to nan intuitively graceful cutting rhythms of Claire Atherton’s editing, and moreover much to Caroline Champetier’s astonishing camera.
The prima cinematographer, who has worked pinch Godard and Rivette, Leos Carax and Xavier Beauvois, creates a full caller communicative by focusing connected Wang Xilin’s body, unembarrassed by its scars and droops and veins, by cracked heels and warped toenails, a Francis Bacon aliases Egon Schiele taxable lit for illustration a Caravaggio painting. For a time, nan film’s subversion exists successful inviting america to representation wide ideas astir aging and physicality, mobility and posture, onto nan contours of an octogenarian Chinese body.
And for illustration successful a Caravaggio, Wang Xilin’s creation (which besides recalls Jonathan Glazer’s superb pandemic research “Strasbourg 1518,” if it were changeable by Tsai Ming Liang) moves betwixt poses that inevitably evoke attitudes of suffering, heightened by nan soft patter of tegument connected tegument arsenic he slaps his bosom aliases lightly pummels his torso, aliases arsenic he sings a unusual opus that sounds for illustration melodic anguish moreover though its word-shaped noises are unintelligible. Eventually Wang Xilin does talk, successful existent words, though nan memoir conception is thing but standard, arsenic nan camera again focuses connected his body, his hands, his crossed legs, nan measurement his tegument folds astatine nan joints.
Meanwhile, he recounts nan achy trajectory of his life, from earnest Communist to dissident, arsenic his belief successful imaginative free look brought him into conflict pinch a authorities that cannot tolerate what it cannot control. Sometimes nan head makes nan seemingly counterintuitive determination to drown retired his subject’s speech pinch music, while continuing to subtitle what he says. But quickly it becomes clear that nan symphonies and concertos — which Wang Xilin will later play seated, still naked astatine a glossy achromatic Steinway expansive — are besides his voice, speaking successful nan connection of crotchets and minims, arsenic a sculptor speaks successful marble and an designer speaks successful brick.
The contortions of a dancing assemblage can, without props aliases verbal cues, evoke pain, conscionable arsenic overmuch of Wang Xilin’s euphony memorializes suffering. The crumbling walls of nan theatre make america deliberation of structural decay, conscionable arsenic Wang Xilin’s aging assemblage makes america deliberation astir nan transition of clip and its ravages. Music, painting, dance, theater, architecture, sculpture, literate memoir, and of people cinema — location is really nary branch of nan arts that “Man successful Black” does not successful immoderate shape illuminate, showing really each are interrelated and really nan power of 1 can, pinch determination, transportation into another. This is simply a softly extremist governmental act, a grounds now woven into truthful galore different forms it tin ne'er again beryllium suppressed: nan devastating, riveting communicative of a life dedicated to nan activity of art, delivered arsenic a activity of art.