Director Michael Apted adds another impressive credit to his singularly diverse resume with “Moving the Mountain,” a fascinating BBC production that could score in theatrical runs. Global fest and TV exposure is a virtual certainty.
Docu examines the Chinese democracy movement that was crushed — temporarily, at least — by the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Apted (“35 Up,””Coal Miner’s Daughter”) finds a fresh perspective, and an inspired method for placing events in historical context, by focusing primarily on student dissident Li Lu, once No. 18 on the Chinese government’s most-wanted list.
Interviewed in the U.S., where he’s an emigre, Li recalls his formative years during the Cultural Revolution, his difficult childhood as the son of politically incorrect parents, and his sudden surge of hope as the 1989 democracy movement began to flower in Tiananmen Square. Apted uses, sparingly but effectively, dramatized re-creations of scenes from the dissident’s youth. But pic consists mainly of archival footage, most of it never before used, and interviews with Li and other student leaders (including, amazingly, some who still live in China).
With the benefit of hindsight, Li and other dissident leaders acknowledge they underestimated the willingness of Chinese leaders to violently repress their protests. They admit guilt-racked suspicions that they may have acted too impetuously in agitating events that resulted in so many deaths.
Pic is admirably frank in dealing with tensions between the dissidents who fled to other countries, and those who remained behind. The articulately passionate Li Lu insists that he left China “to make myself ready for when the time comes” to begin the movement anew. Back in China, however, another student dissident says of Li and company: “If they really want to work for democracy, only when they come back will it be possible.”
“Moving the Mountain” is first-rate on a tech level. Liu Sola’s musical score is occasionally overbearing; more often thunderously effective. Susanne Rostock’s editing is razor-sharp.
Pic’s title comes from a Chinese proverb about a farmer’s efforts to remove, stone by stone, a mountain from his land. The farmer admits he might not live long enough to see the task completed. But his children’s children’s children may see the day when the mountain is moved.