By Matt Keay. Following on from the critical success of his debut feature ‘Kaili Blues’, emerging auteur Bi Gan builds on both the central themes of memory and loss prevalent in his filmmaking, and the technical prowess which wowed audiences of his first film.
‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ follows Luo Hongwu, a broken, emotionally destitute transient man (Jue Huang), as he travels around Kaili, a southeastern mainline Chinese city, searching in vain for a woman (Wei Tang) that even he admits he can barely recall, but who holds a significance that gnaws at his damaged psyche. Why he is looking for her is anyone’s guess, but the beauty of Luo’s perambulations is worth the ticket price alone.
Much of ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ is vague and elusive, capturing perfectly the feeling of waking up from a dream and not being able to exactly remember what you dreamt about. As oneiric and transitory as the film is, though, Bi Gan’s direction is assured and light of touch, (even if his script, such as it is, is a little on the heavy-handed side), and the world in which he gently forces the audience to experience is ripe for interpretation. The real joy, however, of this film is the cinematography.
Every frame of this wonderful picture is worthy of adoration, and the directors of photography (of which there are three – Yao Hung-I, David Chizallet, and Jinsong Dong) deserve incalculable credit for their jaw dropping work. The final shot of the film is a fifty-nine minute unbroken take in which Luo moves through numerous enigmatic environments; a bravura achievement which improves in spades on the forty-one minute handheld take in ‘Kaili Blues’.
In addition, real life cinema-goers are expected to don 3D glasses at the point that Luo does, heightening the dreamlike aesthetic, and furthering the dazzling, woozy disorientation of the previous hour and a quarter.
Bi Gan has made no secret of his adoration for the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, (having, like most of us, watched ‘Stalker’ in college), and it would appear that imitation, as they say, is the highest form of flattery. The marriage of fluidity and poise when it comes to the camerawork, the deadpan poetic dialogue; ’Long Day’s Journey Into Night’, and ‘Kaili Blues’, evoke the very best of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre.
One of the opening scenes quietly surveys an overgrown train yard with deft precison, bringing to mind in many ways the dilapidated locales of The Zone. Bi Gan is clearly a talent to keep an eye on. He’s a cinephile who taught himself how to tell stories through cinema, and it is clear his star is on the rise. Viewed in its state merely as an audio/visual poem, ’Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ is a worthy and valuable endeavour, but primarily it is a film best ‘experienced’, rather than enjoyed.
Marvel at its beauty, ponder on its meaning, but don’t go looking for answers. It’s out in cinemas on December 27th.
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