Sunday, 11 September 2016

REVIEW - PATHS OF THE SOUL (ZHANG YANG)


Motion in suspension, stillness in movement, spirituality in action. Just as Zhang Yang's most accomplished feature, Paths of the Soul, creates tension and interest in its many peculiarities, so too does it indulge in a most conceptual, fundamental one. This is neither fiction nor documentary; while the individual qualities of one may occasionally disrupt the progression of the other, and serve to undermine the film's purpose, it is the fascinating and largely seamless integration of the two into an unfamiliar form of film that is the most interesting peculiarity of all. And when the seams do show, it only directs one's attention to the debate that exists in this juxtaposition, the core tension that sustains this film. As regards its actual content, however, Paths of the Soul is a most succinct yet respectful meditation on spirituality, and on the physical practices of nurturing these immaterial notions. Zhang's outlook here is inevitably broad, given the sheer length of time he spent with the group of real-life pilgrims on route to Lhasa, though also crucially precise; it is with such astuteness and empathy that he is able to express the spiritual significance of these corporeal trials with pithy grace. The film is almost hasty in its depiction of this year-long journey - cutting this time to two hours is surely of little difference to cutting it to four, or to eight, but rather one pines for a little lingering here or there, just to better drink in the breathtaking majesty of the landscapes, captured in Guo Da Ming's exceptional cinematography. Even we of little faith may discover some strange, sentimental, spiritual part of our psyches stirred by these images, eking out a path straight to my soul.