Second Time Around

The Gate of Heavenly Peace
The democracy movement that filled Tiananmen Square seven years ago lives on in Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton's three-hour documentary -- one of the most provocative studies of mass protest ever filmed. Gordon and Hinton refuse to view activists and officials from a Manichaean perspective. What they render is a tragic panoply of undisciplined idealists and rational reformers (among the student-led protesters) and well-meaning moderates and obtuse paternalists (in the government). All are subject to the galvanic pressure of public emotion; even an intellectual who helped stage a hunger strike to focus the thinking of the demonstrators admits he couldn't help playing to their passions instead. The filmmakers never sacrifice clarity to momentum. They reach back in history to explain the dynamics behind the cataclysms at Tiananmen: the students' romantic dream of a purifying rebellion and Deng Xiaoping's fear of anarchy and turmoil (a result of his own humiliation during Mao's Cultural Revolution). Harrowing, often inspiring, the film is also consistently enlightening. Gordon and Hinton have joined their critical faculties to their democratic sympathies, and the result is a contemporary political epic.

-- Michael Sragow

The Gate of Heavenly Peace screens Monday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. at the Pacific Film Archive, Bancroft & Durant, Berkeley. Tickets are $3.50-5.50; call (510) 642-1124.

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