The Iron Ministry
[T]he best film about China in the twenty-first century that I’ve seen to date—was made by an American, J.P. Sniadecki, known for his work with Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. Following People’s Park (2012) and Yumen (2013), both documentaries on contemporary China that Sniadecki co-directed, The Iron Ministry compiles three years of footage shot during rides on China’s extensive railway system. A cow stomach is sliced into edible bits; a man puffs on a bamboo cigar-holder between compartments; the filthy floor is lined with cigarette butts and sleeping human bodies; a precocious little boy sarcastically encourages the crowd to piss and shit in the aisles.
--Travis Jeppesen, Artforum
“The Iron Ministry” is neither boring nor confining, which is just to say that it’s not a long trip through a faraway country. It’s a work of art — vivid and mysterious and full of life.
--A.O. Scott, The New York Times
"The train has always been a major metaphor for change, but here there is an especially interesting sense of ambiguity...The danger of hurtling to modernity is always present, rattling along the ever-lengthening tracks."
--Daniel Walber, NONFICS
"His approach is paradoxically both self-effacing and nosy, displaying an insatiable curiosity about the apparently mundane textures of the train's interiors as well as its passengers... Occasionally the sheer velocity of vehicular motion sees the image excitingly blur into chaos, like fleeting, avant-garde shorts that effortlessly conjure the dazzlingly abstract out of the quotidian and the concrete."
--Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter
"Sniadecki offers a formally controlled look at the range of classes, the implied changes wrought by China’s economic boom, and the interactions particular to train travel. Refreshingly, Sniadecki allows the film — or rather, some passengers — to engage in politics, from the rights of minorities to economic pressures. While cerebral in intent and planning, the pic doesn’t feel overly straitjacketed by theory and offers unexpected moments of amusement."
--Jay Weissberg, Variety
"The real focus of "The Iron Ministry" isn't the train but the world zipping past it."
--Eric Kohn, Indiewire
"Shot over three years of riding the rails throughout all parts of China, but edited to seem like it’s one fluid trip, J.P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry starts off as a collection of these interior impressions, establishing atmosphere, sound, image, and also the smells – of garbage, meat, sweat, and ever-present cigarettes."
--Mark Peranson, Festival del Film Locarno
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