Ghost Town

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Zhao Dayong’s rewarding hi-def documentary looks at life in the run-down Southwestern Chinese village of Zhiziluo. Save three chapter designations (“Voices,” “Recollections” and “Innocence”) and an occasional onscreen identifier, the film is intentionally shapeless, the better to give a sense of its subjects’ indeterminate existence. You’re sure to feel every one of Ghost Town’s 172 minutes, though the longueurs are more than made up for by two standout characters—a nearly feral 12-year-old boy who scrounges for food on a daily basis and a drunk, divorced father given to angry diatribes and extreme self-pity. Their struggles are recognizable, but it’s the quite apparent yearning (both theirs and ours) for escape and betterment that makes these stories stick. Indeed, the only real goal in this decrepit locale is to leave Zhiziluo behind for an even more uncertain big-city life, though most of the residents have long given up the prospect. A statue of Mao Zedong appropriately stands in the village square, pointing the way forward—or, perhaps, to nowhere in particular. Sunday, Sept 27 at 2:15pm—Keith Uhlich

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New York Film Festival 2009

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