The term CinemaScope might conjure a 2.66-to-1 vision of an extra-bodacious Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire, or, if you're a certain breed of movie maniac, it might inspire a recitation of Fritz Lang's famous Contempt-uous remark that the format is fine for filming snakes and coffins, but not for capturing people. Bizarre, then, that Liu Jiayin has taken an outmoded approach known for gargantuan celluloid spectacle and revived it — brilliantly — for small-scale digital family portraiture. Winner of numerous festival prizes, including the competitive Dragons and Tigers award bestowed in Vancouver last fall, Liu's BetaSP debut feature, Ox Hide, has more than once been deemed the most important first feature to emerge from China since Jia Zhangke's 2000 Platform. That's a fest obsessive's way of saying that Liu is the real deal — in addition to possessing a charismatically baby-butch camera presence, she knows how to write, stage, and shoot a funny, unsettling, and pointed scene.
Twenty-three scenes, to be exact, a number reflecting Liu's age when she made the movie. Ox Hide consists of just that many immobile but rarely "static" shots, each used to depict a moment from the cramped and quarrelsome domestic life she shares with her mother and her father, the latter a stubborn and slowly failing leather goods merchant. (Thus the title.) Making "reality" TV look about as stupid as it is, Liu shares a unique use of format and a sharp focus on the family with ’90s teen PixelVision pioneer — and former Le Tigre member — Sadie Benning, and like Benning, she's got terrific timing both on-screen (bickering about noodles at the dinner table) and off (using a close-up of a printer to reveal her kin's economic struggles). Local curator Joel Shepard deserves thanks for bringing this movie to the Bay Area, kicking off a "Beijing Underground" series that will span a few more Fridays this month. (Johnny Ray Huston)
Thurs/8, 7 and 9 p.m.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF