Art College 1994 review: Thought provoking, visually pleasing and spot on!

Shachi Lavingia
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Art College 1994

Art College 1994 review: "Society is changing and people are too. How can art stay the same?" is perfectly portrayed in this Chinese animated drama that had its Indian premiere at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

Having had a special relationship with art for 25 years and counting that eventually made its way to becoming an integral part of my career, Art College 1994 felt rather relevant to me! Somewhere along the way, this conversation between two art students took place - "Who gets to decide what is art? The artist itself! Then everyone is at artist," and it reminded me of every single time I've questioned my own work and whether or not it qualifies as art today! Directed by Liu Jian, this film is based on the campus of the Chinese Southern Academy of Arts in the early 1990s and via the protagonists and their interpersonal conversations, it makes us question art, its meaning and significance in the mundanity of our daily lives. 

Art College 1994 looks complicated on the outside but it's actually a rather simple and relatable story for everyone. While these art students get told 'what art should look like' by their professors, we've experienced this in the same capacity during college while discussing John Donne's poetry and what the professor believes Donne was really trying to convey. The girls in this art college are also battling patriarchy in its many forms, growing up in strict households and wrapping their heads around arranged marriage and its non dreamy reality. Sounds familiar, no?

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Watch the trailer here!

It's not just the animation that stands out in this film; the everydayness of little things like a butterfly following two characters in the park while they walk around, people sleeping on the road and those nights with empty streets and dogs barking, all of this shows the attention to detail. This is also depicted beautifully via sound like the 'chopping of vegetables in a cafe' being audible while two people have a conversation, or hair being cut while the haircutter is lost in his own inner monologue. I wish this much attention was paid to its characters too! Besides talking about art, life and philosphy, the male characters in this film don't have any depth to them! Who are they besides being artists? We'll never know! As an audience, you still have some insight into the female characters here via their everyday interactions with each other through comments like, "My mom told me that girls don't snore." and the million other things these two girls discuss with each other. Maybe this is deliberate and places in this manner to shine light on society and how stereotypically men and women interact with the same gender!

Seasons are also depicted well in this one. Whether it's snowing, raining or birds chirping and the sun shining, Art College 1994 shows you how people also interact with the weather. You can tell that a lot of research has gone into it right from a character's thought process, dialogues to the animation. That particular scene in the end when one of the students was beaten up by some boys from a neighbouring college and he lay on the grass and watched the firecrackers in the sky, with snow falling all around him and covering his face - that was executed so beautifully that we felt his pain and helplessnes! While this film didn't give me a satisfying end where everything became 'okay', it did help me feel seen and less lonely as an artist! 

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Art College 1994 review Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival