There is perhaps no country other than China where the cities are destroyed to be built up again at an astonishing speed. Because of global economic mechanisms and modernization processes, Chinese cities are rapidly changing, and in a short time span. The consequence of such heist construction is urban hyperproduction. Old and historic infrastructure is being destroyed as an urbanization byproduct, creating new cities designed to be populated by millions. Still, these cities are barely inhabited. This artistic-scientific exploration by Ella Raidel is dealing with these ghost cities and explores the main issue of capital profit maximization effects influencing our living conditions.
The Eiffel Tower, the Elysian Fields, magnificent fountains, and trimmed hedges are dormant under the foggy rain of Tianducheng. Apartment complex located in the suburbs of Chinese megalopolis Hangzhou is one the endless development locations, mostly uninhabited and rising overnight because of rapid real estate speculations. Skyscrapers, parking spaces, gardens. Urban show of nothingness.
Without any comment, we look over the empty skyscrapers, demolition work, and real open houses in these apartment complexes. The documentary scenes are interrupted and deconstructed by ironic fictionalized dramatizations. The film has embodied the fictional story of Charles, living on the outskirts of Chongquing, in an empty hotel to be demolished. Different narrating levels are overflowing with one another. Raidel lets this fictional Charles wonder through real scenography of ruins, and reality and fiction are mixed in various ways. The actor is in fact living in an empty hotel. It belonged to his parents and is still standing despite of years-old demolition notice. Ella Raidel made this film without any permits. This uncensored view and opening of discourse space as a half-fictional scene make this film extraordinary.
These new ghost cities are heterotopies, places of diversity in which the collective phantasy and dreams are manifested as nonexisting in an emptiness, exhaustion, and almost forgotten ruins. This film explores the complexity of the present which is shaped by global culture and economic exchange. Raidel uses the poetic essay film as a method and experiments with new forms of narration while criticizing norm representations at the same time.
To be able to narrate this paradoxical logic of lost spaces, it is necessary to deal with the hybrid film form and experiment with film language and narration which will be created for the exact purpose in various styles and genres.
By using the combination of drama, reconstruction, and found picture footage, realistic and fictitious narrative elements were used. The uniqueness of the research is enabling the discursive space using art and knowledge, merging exploration, analysis, method, thought, and reference. All these parameters are embedded in the narration which alternately merges the documentary with the fiction.
“A Pile of Ghosts” is about the director telling the story of the city of the future on two mentioned levels: on one hand, this pure documentarist approach reveals what happened and lets the images speak for themselves. However, on the other hand, we witness actors transforming into made-up inhabitants of the imaginary city. They are presented to us at their auditions at first and are then transformed into the imaginary residents of the imaginary city. In these moments, the documentary approach becomes a melancholic medial, but also meditative fiction. “Waterloo Bridge” (Mervyn LeRoy, 1940), Charles’s favorite film, is constantly referenced and serves as a precious bond between past and present, as an image of times that are no more, but still feel vivid. A city that is yet to be built is at the same time a city in which the past has left indelible traces. Through constant shift between reality and fiction, a strong critique of capitalism is expressed, desire to “earn money”, often at nature’s and humans’ expense. “A Pile of Ghosts” speaks for itself. And it does so with direct and symbolic language simultaneously.