Ascension (2021)

JESSICA KINGDON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

USA, 2021. , . Cinematography by Jessica Kingdon, . Produced by Jessica Kingdon, , Nathan Truesdell. Music by . Film Editing by Jessica Kingdon.

This collage-style documentary takes its place among earlier milestones of its kind, among them Berlin City of a Symphony, Koyaanisqatsi and Humain Trop Humain, joining a more recent trend of films that offer observations of modern-day China’s intertwined social and industrial lives told with a healthy level of distant but not disinterested remove.

The title refers to a poem written by director Jessica Kingdon’s great-grandfather, whose verses suggest the downside of ambition for greatness in a country undergoing growth as well as turmoil. The scenes that Kingdon follows this with, mostly in sharp, static shots, suggest that the abundance of opportunity being provided by China’s massive manufacturing landscape comes with a great deal of compromise.

Scenes of employment fairs for low-paying jobs in which candidates are given long lists of restrictive requirements are followed by voyages through factories where countless workers make a wide variety of products, their repetitive motions an extension of the machines that are mass-producing plastic bottles or snack foods. In the film’s most amusing sequence, sex dolls are created by good-natured employees who chat about their lives while perfecting the right colour of nipples or texture of pubic hair. We visit high-end hospitality businesses where employees are instructed in the finest arts of servitude, as well as popular video game parlours where young people sit for hours mesmerized by computer screens, we witness military and police training as well as colourful amusement parks, and go to corporate conventions as well as private dinners with entrepreneurs who offer their opinions about China’s economic future.

Kingdon never influences our experience with commentary or purposely calculated moments of emotional indulgence: meditative and entrancing, the film feels like it has captured the inner workings of the worlds it portrays, keeping a steady rhythm that never feels rushed but holds your attention throughout.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

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