Chinese artist Xu Bing’s first feature “Dragonfly Eyes” (“Qing Ting zhi yan”) might be the most innovative film in competition at Locarno Festival. The film is entirely composed of cleverly edited real-life scenes taken from surveillance footage: no on-screen actors, no cameramen, no crew.

Nonetheless, thanks to a few voice actors, the film manages to tell an interesting story which – though unusual and not exactly realistic – manages to grip the audience from start to finish.

While the film as a whole is fiction, what we see on screen is pure reality. This allows the audience to at once be entertained and reflect on the world we live in, becoming something much more powerful than fiction. While it has nothing to do with documentary, “Dragonfly Eyes” can be more thought-provoking than many non-fiction films, if one is willing to forget about the plot for a while. Although this would hardly happen in a regular fiction film, director Xu Bing makes it easy for the viewer, as the story every now and then slows down and becomes less interesting. This encourages the audience to unwarily consider the true stories that are hidden behind the film’s “lies”, and to reflect upon the thin line that separates fiction from reality.

One can only imagine the amount of work that this film represented for Xu Bing and his team, who had to watch thousands of hours of surveillance footage to try and put together a consistent narrative. Clearly, Xu Bing thought it was also important to take advantage of the opportunity to show spectacular scenes that were casually caught by a surveillance camera, judging by the amount of explosions, car crashes and train wrecks shown on screen. Although this may sound morbid, these scenes are never gratuitous and always add something to the story or reflect the characters’ mood.

At his first film, Xu Bing has certainly achieved something special, and it would be a shame if this were his last film. When an artist starts making films, there is always the risk that their film will be either pretentious or only suitable for art galleries (such as last year’s “I Had Nowhere to Go”, which did not exactly belong at a film festival). However, “Dragonfly Eyes” is humble in its ambitiousness, and could easily be screened even in mainstream cinemas. The film manages to combine art film and a consistent narrative, making it an interesting watch for cinephiles and occasional moviegoers alike.

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