City of Life and Death (15)

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The Independent Culture

Starkly shot in black and white, this account of the Nanking massacre in 1937 has an eerie, nightmarish quality.

Dialogue is kept to a minimum. In certain sequences, the film-makers achieve a newsreel-stye quality. Other moments are so extreme that they look like images from an apocalyptic Hieronymous Bosch painting. When the Japanese Imperial Army first enters Nanking, its soldiers are jittery. There is a vicious battle amid the rubble for control of the city. Then the slaughter begins. The Chinese are machine gunned, buried alive and bayoneted. The German representative, Nazi party member John Rabe, tries to stem the slaughter and establish a safety zone. This is very gruelling viewing but somehow Chuan manages to include redemptive and lyrical moments, in an attempt at understanding how such a catastrophic event could have been allowed to happen.