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City of Life and Death 

A searing Chinese docudrama about the Rape of Nankingd

click to enlarge city_horizontal_31.jpg

In the winter of 1937, the Japanese army invaded the Chinese capital of Nanking, killing not only Chinese soldiers but hundreds of thousands of civilians as well. Chinese filmmaker Lu Chan drops viewers deep in the infamous event, providing both the broad chaos and the a handful of individual stories. City is not a bombastic war pic. It's languidly paced, and seems designed to immerse the viewer in a sort of poetry of horror: It's visually stunning, giving scenes of mass murder a painterly quality while still remaining shocking. This is not this summer's feel-good film: While its heart may be with those characters who met these events with honor, sacrifice and humanity (i.e., inspirational), City is an almost unrelentingly grim and depressing affair. And, yes, safe in our theater seats, we learn once again that people just like us are capable of both executing unthinkable atrocities, and surviving them. But we also know that learning and re-learning that has little effect on how mankind proceeds. In Mandarin and Japanese, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Aug. 5. Harri

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