Ascension review – surreally fascinating snapshots of ‘the Chinese dream’ | Documentary films


In a business etiquette workshop designed to prepare prospective executives for potential encounters with their western counterparts, an instructor with a polished Stepford veneer briefs her class on hugging protocol and the correct number of teeth to show in a smile (the answer is eight). In a workshop in Zhongshan, a team of women lovingly craft bespoke silicone sex dolls.

Meanwhile, in a food processing plant, workers in fat-splattered aprons sift through piles of entrails and duck carcass off-cuts. Trainee butlers, destined to work for China’s new ultra-wealthy, are briefed on cutlery use and the importance of remaining impassive in the face of unreasonable behaviour. And in a deserted mall in a ghost city, built by developers but subsequently abandoned, stands the world’s saddest ostrich, alone in a bleak petting zoo, an attraction for the shoppers who never came.

Jessica Kingdon’s fascinating observational documentary, which looks at aspiration, manufacture, consumption and waste in China, is full of such intriguing snapshots. Accompanied by a lithe, organic score by Dan Deacon, which weaves the rhythms of industry and technology into the music, the film is a mosaic portrait of the realities and repercussions of “the Chinese dream”.

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