A documentary that’s no more than a string of images, “Useless” is pretty much that. Sans any discernible point or direction, latest docu by Chinese helmer Jia Zhangke (“Platform”) has even less content than his previous nonfiction outing, “East” (2006). Marginally a three-way portrait of China’s contempo garment industry, pic will travel on to fests that subscribe to Jia’s auteurist rep but almost nowhere else.
Narration-free film starts at a Guangdong garment factory, showing workers cutting cloth, taking their lunch break, getting medical checkups and beavering away on production lines. Docu then segues to an interview with designer Ma Ke, one of the founders of designer label Exception, who’s recently started a new brand, Wuyong (literally, “Useless”), based on hand-woven fabrics and earthy colors. After the collection’s champagne launch at the 2007 Paris Fashion Week, the film returns to China for a final half-hour set in Jia’s native Shanxi province, showing a couple small sewing businesses and the area’s mining background. Some elegant tracking shots and good HD photography can’t hide the film’s poverty of ideas, nor its underlying arrogance that anyone could be interested in such lazy filmmaking.