By Aldo Padilla
To analyze the audiovisual consumption in social media is something that poses many alternatives beyond viral videos and youtubers. The irruption of video game streaming showed that a streamer can monetize its content despite being sponsored, by donations or subscriptions. In the west, Twitch is the platform that better represents this. Its popularity has allowed people to earn money while just talking or making personal diaries, an idea that takes the relay of blogging, which was trending a decade ago. The boom of those personal transmissions has had a strong impact in China, with nearly a fourth of its population as consumers of that content, constantly rewarding those streams with different forms of virtual money. This sort of currency though, has been banned by the Chinese government, which has closed many of those platforms despite not having political contents. Zhu Shengze film serves as a photograph of the massiveness of this communication phenomenon, partially misunderstood in the west, especially from people that aren’t part of the new generations.
Zhu Shengze debuted two years ago with Another Year, a hyperrealist film where he managed to join a lower class Chinese family, signaling the narrow relation between Chinese society with its media through the omnipresence of television. In this new film, hyperrealism is filtered under the gaze of social media, following different Chinese streamers: farm workers, factory and construction workers, a street dancer, a disabled artist, an androgynous artist, a man with a burnt face and other isolated cases presented in different chapters, people who speak on their quotidian life, and interact with the people watching the stream.
The structure of the film develops a sort of filter, since it reduces gradually the amount of people that we see in the first part, staying with the most iconic characters. But it’s this decision precisely what wears away the structure of the film, since it strongly begins as a portrait of a variety of streamers in different facets, something that suggests that the physical differences between these people has moved them away from their physical surroundings, bringing them near to a virtual environment.
It is important to understand how this film is complemented with other films that take footage from social media under different premises, like the case of Grégoire Beil’s Roman National, which takes different Periscope videos to portray the reactions towards the Niza attacks in 2017, or SNAP, a Chilean short film by Elgueta y Pereira, where Snapchat videos are compiled to build a portrait of violence towards the LGBT community. Those cases are built around certain fictionalization or tale, which makes Present.Perfect different. Zhu Shenge’s film looks for an accumulative effect based on the solitude and eccentricity of their characters, who seek approval from their spectators, but that in no moment ridicule themselves for approval or donations.
The constant dilemma fronted by the film is the premise of social media as an escape of solitude or boredom, or the democratization of stardom (in smaller scale, of course). Also, the film doesn’t demonize technology, since it doesn’t dehumanize its characters, it approaches them from their own discourse and shows that the new forms of communication open different paths towards the great connectivity and audience of this huge country, despite the ban of the local government, who cannot have total control over its content.
Dirección y Edición: Zhu Shengze
USA, Hong Kong, 2019, 124 minutos