On May 12th, 2008, the largest earthquake in China’s history hit, it devastated the Wenchuan region. It killed around 68,000, and dramatically affected the lives of five million people. Director Tao Gu visited the crumbling city shortly after and interviewed his parents, who survived when the majority of their friends and neighbors died. The words of their interviews are back dropped by some stunning images and cinematography. Gu’s ability to frame, and capture a elegant piece of the tragedy is frequently breathtaking.
A 20 minute experimental documentary in nature, the exploration of the idea of a spiritual homelessness caused by such disasters is quite moving. Gu’s parents, whether acquired by experience in age, or by some other means, have a poignancy in their words, a nearly poetic way of retelling what they experienced, and how it affects them personally, and how they see it affecting everyone they know. There are shots of half destroyed buildings, like the one above, and seeing its former inhabitants scale the buildings, standing on ledges, jumping across rooms that don’t have floors in hopes of regaining some of their belongings is touching. But perhaps the most emotional part of the story comes from Gu’s mother talking about how the beautiful olive tree on the top of her apartment building survived the earthquake.
Then Gu shows us demolition equipment tearing down the building, and destroying the tree that had so far survived the ordeal. All shot in grainy black and white, the palate helps portray the inhumanity of such disasters, the way everything, in one second can be changed so drastically, almost dehumanized. Of huge benefit to the film is the radical sound work (also done by Gu) that keeps a constant stir of mix of mechanical and natural sounds whirring around, keeping the tone both calmly tragic and uneasy.
On The Way To The Sea is a charmingly experimental film with great sound and cinematography. It's profound, moving and a must see.