Until recently, the Mainland Chinese cinema was a mystery to almost everyone outside of the country. The economic and public reforms within China this century has led to an opening-up, both culturally and artistically. We’re reaching the stage where we’re exposed to its cinema in the same way as any other emerging film industry. Social drama has featured heavily, with the likes of Still Life, Blind Shaft and Stray Dogs making waves on the festival circuit. Jia Zhangke is undoubtedly the leading exponent in this area. His latest film is Mountains May Depart.

Opening at the turn of the century as China is just beginning to experience the onset of capitalism, Shen Tao (Tao Zhao) is an outgoing and popular figure in Fenyang. Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong), a taciturn coalminer, and Zhang Jiansheng (Zhang Yi), a budding entrepreneur, are best friends. However, they both vie for the affections of Tao. When Zhang wins, Liangzi leaves the city and the pair refuse to speak. However, Tao’s life doesn’t turn out as she expected.

Set during three different time periods, Mountains May Depart is a thoughtful meditation on familial and social relationships in a changing world. Jia Zhangke looks at the effect the economic boom is having on family and social ties. How obsession with material wealth doesn’t equate to happiness and how it’s all too easy to lose sight of what is really important. Mountains May Depart is beautifully shot and acted. China as a country is still in flux and once again Jia Zhangke proves yet again its social conscience.

Mountains May Depart is out in UK cinemas from 15 December.