A subtle reconstruction of Jia Zhang Ke's artistic signatures, though not a repurposing of them, Mountains May Depart is at once his most direct and most indirect portrait of modern China. A typically penetrating, profound work, Jia again presents his inquiries as thesis; few of his peers are so skilled in the process of utilizing identifiable realities for their subtextual import. We see the world as it truly is - both from a recognizable perspective and from a new, altogether more incisive perspective. If politics shape these realities as we perceive them, Jia exploits reality for political purpose, and always with the smoothest, softest of touches. In Mountains May Depart, reality is ironically foregrounded amid a bold lurch in the direction of melodrama. Finally, a picture of people that puts the people first, though Jia's usual (and ever-welcome) focus on expressive imagery and socio-geographical significance remains a premier apparatus in his ideological efforts. In this, Jia falters - the stories he tells harbour expected heft, both emotionally and metaphorically, and they're performed with marvellous grace and sensitivity by the ensemble cast, but they're often plodding and didactic. This is a most earnest, unaware melodrama, in the service of something admirable, but too rarely admirable in its own right. Only in the end, as all of Jia's political, humanistic, stylistic and narrative concerns come together in a brilliant final scene, does Mountains May Depart reveal its true worth. For all its flaws, this film remains indubitably the product of a master artist's ever-expanding mind.