In 1970, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was asked to return to his roots as a documentarian for this profile of China, fully sanctioned by the government of the People’s Republic. In a detached, distant style, the director and his crew pick up snatches of life in and around Bejing, including: kids at an elementary school; a hospital where a woman is giving a cesarean birth; and a cotton mill and its workers. Despite Antonioni’s efforts, China denounced the finished film, and as such, it has gone relatively unseen in most parts of the world, including the United States.
A documentary on China, concentrating mainly on the faces of the people, filmed in the areas they were allowed to visit. The 220 minute version consists of three parts. The first part, taken around Beijing, includes a cotton factory, older sections of the city, and a clinic where a Cesarean operation is performed, using acupuncture. The middle part visits the Red Flag canal and a collective farm in Henan, as well as the old city of Suzhou. The final part shows the port and industries of Shanghai, and ends with a stage presentation by Chinese acrobats.
In 1972, Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni toured China at the invitation of then premier Zhou Enlai and made a documentary about the lives of ordinary Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. The film – Chung Kuo, Cina – sparked one of the biggest, and least warranted scandals in cinematic history, something which plunged its director into despair.
Conceived by Italian public broadcaster RAI and the Chinese embassy in Rome, the idea behind the film was to have a leftist filmmaker visit China and make a film singing the praises of the communist revolution.
However, Antonioni shot a film that was worlds away from propaganda – a 217 minute travelogue showing ordinary Chinese in tattered clothing amid nondescript architecture.
Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing, who used the film as a pretext to attack Zhou – bad luck for a director who was at the peak of his fame and creative powers. Chung Kuo, Cina, together with the rest of the director’s works, were soon banned in China.
Michelangelo Antonioni’s ban was lifted in 2004.