‘Art College 1994
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Art College 1994 2023 Movie Review

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Art College 1994 2023 Movie Review

“ There are no words for what art has to say to us ”, it says not just once, but twice in the Chinese animation film “ Art College 1994 ”. This doubling is quite significant, because the third film by director Liu Jian conveys the message of this sentence quite counterintuitively talked quite a lot, mostly about art. At the center of the narratively rather loosely connected dialogue scenes is a more or less friendly clique of young art students at the South Chinese Academy of Arts, who find themselves in all sorts of conflicts in the midst of the country’s progressive opening to the West: move to France or stay in China? Good education or good marriage? Career first or family first? Traditional or modern? And if modern: What is that anyway?

Most of the avant-garde modern approaches that their fellow students try out, from action painting to performance art, do not convince the protagonists Xiaojun and Rabbit, who are friends. Nor should it be the ultra-traditional school that many of its conservative teachers pursue. And the question of how one could still live from all this does not make it any easier for the students who come from poor backgrounds. After all, isn’t it much more radical and consistent from an aesthetic point of view to simply burn the neoclassical magnificent painting? And what if a rich gallery owner suddenly wants to look at it afterwards – just paint it again?

Voiced by all sorts of well-known Chinese director colleagues – from Bi Gan to Jia Zhangke – “Art College 1994″ starts out as a kind of campus hangout movie, with lots of conversations about this and that, a few more flimsy romantic advances and a handful soft anti-intellectual swipes against all too unfamiliar forms of artistic expression – direction ” I could do that too“. If you make the obvious assumption that director Liu Jian introduces a rudimentary autobiographical level into the film, you can actually well imagine that he didn’t necessarily feel like he was in the right place at a traditionalistically oriented art school. After all, his first two feature films “ Piercing I ” and “ Have A Nice Day ” rather revealed a joy in playing with film noir elements and Quentin Tarantino brand postmodernism.

However, the scenes in which Liu Jian is interested in the often poor living conditions and the struggle for survival of his characters on the periphery of a brutal society are particularly memorable from these genre pieces, which are animated in a crude minimalism style. In this respect, the shift away from genre narratives towards a somewhat more open-ended narrative that reflects a particular milieu and experiences of a generation of Chinese who were young in the 1990s and looking for their way in life and in the transforming society, initially promising. And that’s how it starts: In the first third, “Art College 1994” is reminiscent of some of Richard Linklater ‘s films : the rotoscoped animation films, of course, the nostalgic space-age film “Apollo 10 ½ ” and even more the similarly talkative “ Waking Life ”, but also the non-animated flaneur films of the “Before” trilogy. At some point, however, the suspicion creeps in that Liu’s film couldn’t amount to anything else.

Because although everyone here talks quite a bit, most of the time they don’t have anything special to say. The reflections on art itself, on the sense and nonsense of academic art education or on the art market remain completely on the surface. The few skirmishes that result from a series of extremely chaste dating attempts are also hardly worth mentioning and never develop a dramatic drop.

“Art College 1994” completely lacks both the playful form and the ease with which the cited Linklater films let their protagonists talk about profound things. For a while, the film, animated in Liu’s reduced but quite catchy style, ripples along reasonably pleasantly, and you watch it all with muted interest. Over the quite considerable running time of two hours, however, it will eventually lead quite a bit.

At first, the seemingly autobiographical artist and generational film is reminiscent of Richard Linklater, but without achieving his lightness, playfulness or intellectual depth. In the best moments it’s pleasant and splashing along without consequences, in the weaker moments it’s more of a leaden lump that simply leaves too big a gap between claim and reality.

Art College 1994 2023 Movie Review