Winner of the best film award at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, Shengze Zhu, deals in her Present.Perfect. with two issues. First of all, cinema as art according to the author includes online creations of streamers and users of platforms such as YouTube or Twitch (of course the recordings from which the film was composed come from the Chinese counterparts of these platforms). In short, stream is a movie genre. Zhu, having done a great selection work, shows cut fragments of streams, suggesting that perhaps these platforms gave the tenth muse a truly democratic value.
Secondly, with the help of a collage composed of recordings of several streamers, the director tells us about Chinese society, loneliness in the network and social exclusion. It is hard to call Present.Perfect. a document after all. In the genre, such intrusion into people’s private lives is always aggressive and bold. Whereas Stream is a voluntary exhibitionist act – it is no longer voyeurism, but exposure and an open invitation to this world.
The issue I was thinking about, when – during the screening – I saw in the corner of my eye the viewers leaving movie theater leaving, was whether the form proposed by the artist is able to function in the cinema space. After all, streams are usually watched in very different places and in very different circumstances, often without looking at the screen at all, but only listening to your favorite streamer. In the cinema, we are attached to the armchair, and our attention is forced. Interference in the freedom of attention of viewers must be painful. So it’s not surprising that people were leaving the screening.
However, if we decide to endure, in return we will get a charismatic picture of socio-economic situation of China, seen through the individual eyes of different people. These include a crane operator, a 23-year-old girl working in a lingerie factory and looking after her brother’s daughter, or a man who suffered severe burns from a fire that he miraculously saved.
It’s not just about life stories and sketching the gloomy reflection of reality. Beyond the narrow frame of cams used by the characters in the film is rarely anything but streamers. As if there was a civilizational leap and most people got into the virtual cloud. Or maybe the end of human civilization has already came and only empty faces and archival recordings of life in front of computer screens remained.
Present.Perfect. is not an easy movie. Those who endure the screening will think about the relationship between the future of cinema understood as technology of expression and communication and the future of civilization. The cinema had come a full circle. What was early cinematography after all, if not a recording?