Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hu Bo's “An Elephant Sitting Still” at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 6 - 17

This past year saw a trio of masterful films emerge from Chinese mainland directors, both new and old. Representing for China's sixth generation was the director at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decades now, Jia Zhang-ke. The eerily futurist sheen of his "Ash Is Purest White" lent a distinct glow to the social realist grit of the director's recent turn into crime drama. The second would be the dream of a movie that is Bi Gan's sophomore effort, "Long Day's Journey Into Night". The first hour centers around the noirish pursuit of a love from years past, setting the tone for film's extended set piece in its second half. All of which culminating in a highly stylized and oneiric cinematic voyage, wherein "Long Day’s Journey Into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic". Most elusive of this trio was the single directorial work by novelist Hu Bo before his untimely suicide in late 2017 at the age of 29. Based on the story from his novel "Huge Crack" of that same year, Hu's extended duration film swept critical attention and gained great notice at this past year's Berlin International Film Festival. The film's title, concerning a folk tale of an elephant in the Manzhouli zoo, both acts as a commentary on surviving in increasingly demanding times, and a zen ideal to strive toward. Its parable resonates among the film's youthful protagonists, all deeply unhappy in their isolated industrial locale, as they struggle with the conflicting forces of apathy and meaning. Unrelenting as its tone and duration may be, “An Elephant Sitting Still” proves a delicately layered, subtly shot work that distinguishes itself with lived-in characters expressing a set of incisive statements on the prevalence of apathy, arrogance and egotism in modern China. “An Elephant Sitting Still: Melancholic and Mesmerising" in the extreme, conveyed in long, uncut sequences and a muted tonal palette, the film follows its protagonists in their inward and outward search for liberation from the entrenchment of their personal and social conditions. "An Elephant Sitting Still's Bleak, Graceful Realism" coming to envelop completely as the viewer joins them in the miasma of this, "Shattering, Soul-Searching Chinese One-Off". Hu Bo's singular directorial vision will finally hit domestic screens next month, including a brief run at Northwest Film Forum.