“In terms of structure, I’m not very interested in storytelling in filmmaking; instead, I’m more fascinated by the idea of bringing an experience to the audience.” Zhu Shengze, 2019
In the Eastern answer to Western vloggers and YouTubers, Zhu Shengze brings us a collage of live streamers from the People’s Republic of China. Drawing its title from the grammatical tense that reflects a past event that has consequences in the present (“I have left,” for example), the films subjects document the banal and the quotidian moments of their lives in the hope of establishing some form of meaningful contact.
Shengze’s anthology brings together a chain-smoking burn victim, an uncoordinated street dancer, a man with growth-hormone deficiency and a textile factory worker, among others. The result is a meditation on how human relationships are transformed in the digital era, where physical distance and time difference are no longer important. Our audiences are tasked with finding meaning in an ocean of content, an experience that undoubtedly requires a patient and attentive viewer. It’s a film with no plot and no protagonists. The streamers common denominator is the shared experience of loneliness.
Initially experimental, with opening shots reminiscent of Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Moving Camera (1929), the post-industrialist epic has elements of a fly on the wall approach that is interrupted by live interaction between the streaming subjects and their audiences. The films monochrome palette gives the images, shot on different devices with varying quality, a stylistic consistency. It also establishes a frontier between the images we are exposed to online and that which we experience in real life, giving unto the film its own subjectivity. A sort of detachment from both the real and the virtual. It’s like each individual serves as part of one monolithic machine, which is society at large. Everyone has their part to play, as they navigate belonging in this brave new world.