Since we cannot belong to all places and cultures at once, films that open a window onto the outside world will always be invested with a certain degree of documentary value. But in the case of China, the idea of cinema as a candid reflection of real life extends beyond this habitual, often unconscious response. The finest filmmaking to come out of the mainland this decade bears a commitment to updating us on the soul of the nation, and this duty has placed it in a tight bond with that old theorists’ whipping boy: realism. Much of the authority we find in recent Chinese cinema comes from its aesthetic of immersion, that documentary impulse which has been a guiding force in even the country’s apparently fictional films. Through a shared vocabulary of patient observation and extreme duration, today’s vanguard of Chinese directors have been voraciously hoarding away as much reality as they can—as if hyperaware that their landscape has never been more subject to rapid disappearance, and that there has never been greater international demand for stories of those living through this dramatic historical moment. Click here to read the rest of Andrew Chan’s review of Ghost Town.