Zhang Yimou’s 1994 film “To live” is a tragedy that covers the life of Fugui, his wife Jiazhen, and their two children during the end of nationalist rule to the end of the Cultural Revolution. The scene chosen from 48:30 to 50:00 depicts Longer’s execution. In this scene, Zhang Yimou includes various cinematic techniques to elicit the appearance of helplessness and impotence. In the film “To Live,” Zhang Yimou uses filmic techniques of medium shots, camera angles, and sound effects to reveal an internal conflict among each individual during the Cultural Revolution.
One of the filmic techniques Zhang Yimou demonstrates in the film is the usage of medium shots. By using medium shots, the scene emphasizes both Fugui and his surroundings by giving them an equal presence on screen. Since the massive number of people were crowded to see Longer’s execution, the composition is hectic and dispersed, absorbing the existence of Fugui. Though it frames multiple subjects, the viewers’ eyes are leaned towards Fugui. By doing this, Zhang Yimou promotes viewers a feeling of suffocating and frustration, evoking a better understanding of Fugui’s current sentiment: seized with fear and anxiety.
Another effective technique Zhang uses is the camera angle. From time to time, the viewpoint alters Fugui’s first-person perspective looking at Longer, Longer’s first-person perspective looking at Fugui, and vice versa. Indicating an eye-level angle puts the audience on an equal footing with the characters. In this case, Zhang utilizes camera angles to position the viewer to understand the relationship between Fugui and Longer implicitly. It is a fact that if Fugui had won gambling over Longer, then the one being executed would have been Fugui instead of Longer. Also, this effect emphasizes the dramatic facial expression of the two characters. From the perspective of Fugui, the viewers can feel a sympathetic emotion towards Longer due to his struggle against death. Contrastively, the viewers can sense the frustration and fear by Fugui’s explicit facial expressions.
Lastly, Zhang Yimou uses the sound effect to establish the climatic importance of the scene. Instead of attempting to directly show the scene Longer getting shot, Zhang uses the sound effects of guns to stimulate the viewers’ imagination of Longer being shot. In addition, when a person is surprised, urine comes out naturally regardless of one’s intention. As shown in the movie, Fugui relieves himself after watching Longer being taken away by the guards. These internal struggles make Fugui more lifelike and sympathetic. Thus, this scene is particularly thematic because it indicates that Fugui still eagers to live no matter how hard he had struggled.
Each individual take struggles upon oneself. Throughout the film “To live,” the scenes illustrates ordinary people living life under control of government and their gain and loss of it. In the film “To Live,” Zhang Yimou establishes the theme of internal conflicts of people during the Cultural Revolution by using several filmic techniques, such as medium shots, camera angles, and sound effects.