Long Day’s Journey Into Night


The more that things change, the more that they decay.

(2018) Mystery (Kino-Lorber) Wei Tang, Jue Huang, Sylvia Chang, Hong-Chi Lee, Yongzhong Chen, Feiyang Luo, Meihuaizi Zeng, Chun-hao Tuan, Yanmin Bi, Lixun Xie, Xi Qi, Ming Dow, Zezhi Long, Jian Jun Ding, Kailong Jiang, Kai Liang, Chuanren Lin, Xizhen Liu, Tongfu Long, Zhonglan Luo, Zhengfu Meng, Hongyue Pan. Directed by Gan Bi

 

Funny thing about dreams; they’re often more real to us than what we perceive as reality. Dreams reveal our true selves – the good, the bad and the ugly. Dreams can be beautiful, but dreams reveal the lives we wish we had led.

Luo Hongwu (Huang) is returning to the Southwestern China town of Kaili which he had lived in much earlier days of his life. He has returned there after the death of his father, the ne’er-do-well gambler nicknamed Wildcat (Lee). Luo finds a photo of a woman (Tang) hidden in a broken clock and vaguely remembers a relationship with someone who looked like her – and her name might have been Wan Qiwen. He goes in search of the woman.

Along the way he interacts with a rogue’s gallery of oddball characters from a crusty hairdresser (Chang), a precocious 12-year-old boy who lives in an abandoned mine, and assorted pimps, thieves, hookers, thugs and cops. Luo finds himself in a movie theater and sits back to watch the movie in 3D, putting on his 3D glasses. That’s when dreams become reality, and vice versa.

If you think I’m being deliberately vague about the plot, you’re not wrong. The thing is that this is something of a stream-of-consciousness film which has a kind of dream logic to it in which the laws of physics might just be suggestions. Director Gan Bi hit the critical radar in 2015 with his debut feature Kaili Blues which contained a single 40-minute tracking shot. He outdoes himself here with one that lasts close to an hour – in 3D yet – that takes up the entire second half of the film. It is a magnificent technical achievement but in the immortal words of Ian Malcolm (as spoken by the equally immortal Jeff Goldblum) he was so busy figuring out if he could he didn’t stop to think whether he should.

Bi is a visual wizard and the shots are so thoughtfully framed, so beautifully lit and the production design so exquisite that you realize that he’s heavily influenced by the great Chinese director Kar-Wei Wong. It’s a beautiful movie to watch and if you’re tempted to avoid reading the subtitles altogether and just let yourself float among the images, I wouldn’t blame you. In fact, I think that’s a good way to approach this movie because the dialogue is absolutely superfluous.

Movies in many respects are dreams given form and I don’t know about you but some of my dreams would make shitty movies. This is a long (nearly two and a half hours), slowly paced and often confusing film that, like a dog trying to settle down in its bed for a nap often turns round and round on itself before settling down, only to get up again and do the same thing all over again. In that respect this isn’t a movie for everybody except the most esoteric and avant garde of filmgoers. Mainstream audiences aren’t going to like this very much.

There is a very Noir tone to the film which is welcome; it is set in a city where the rainfall is constant, like Seattle on steroids. As a result, there is a sense of decay and entropy to the surroundings where water is wont to break through walls and create nifty little waterfalls. Most of the characters smoke like chimneys and not just because everyone in China seems to be a chain-smoker but because smoke and water go together as motifs. Incidentally, despite the title there is no connection here that I could see with the classic Eugene O’Neill play.

This should be approached as fine art; very subject to interpretation. The story isn’t the important thing which is something that will have most mainstream moviegoers headed for the exits. What matters here is the tone, the vision, the feeling and the thoughts provoked, but don’t say we didn’t war you about the whole art thing.

For readers in Miami the movie is currently playing this week at the Cinematheque before taking up residence at the AMC Sunset Place. Keep an eye for the visual cues as to when to put on your 3D glasses; there’s a brief graphic informing the audience to put on their glasses when you see the main character put on his.

REASONS TO SEE: The shot composition is outstanding. There is a definite Noir feel to the film.
REASONS TO AVOID: It’s a bit of a slog, figuratively and literally.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sensuality and a crazy amount of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chinese moviegoers felt misled by the marketing campaign which billed the film as a Noir mystery and less as an art house experience leading to a good deal of Internet backlash.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews: Metacritic: 88/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Into the Void
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Postal (2019)

Advertisements

Pick of the Litter – April 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Avengers: Endgame

(Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Brie Larson. The events of Avengers: The Infinity War have left the universe devastated. Many friends have fallen but one hero doesn’t accept it; Captain America. He has a plan to put things to rights. Whether or not it works, one thing is certain – the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same. This brings Phase III to an end. April 26

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Haunting of Sharon Tate

(Saban) Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda. Sometimes the prurient captures our imagination. In the days prior to one of the most notorious and gruesome murders in history, doomed actress Sharon Tate supposedly had premonitions of what was going to happen to her and her unborn baby. This movie follows along with that proposition. April 5

The Wind

(IFC Midnight) Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Miles Anderson, Dylan McTee. A woman living in an isolated cabin on the prairie in the 19th century is disturbed by the non-stop winds. Her fears are further amplified when a newlywed couple moves in nearby. Despite her husband’s assurances that there is nothing out there but the wind, it turns out that there is something malevolent watching her and it has sharp claws. April 5

Unicorn Store

(Netflix) Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Whitford, Joan Cusack. A young woman who is having trouble adjusting to adulthood receives a mysterious invitation to shop at a store that will allow her to fulfill her most precious childhood dreams. This charming film marks the directing debut of Oscar-winning actress Larson. April 5

Wild Nights With Emily

(Greenwich) Molly Shannon, Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, Brett Gelman. Most of us who have any impression of the great poet Emily Dickinson see her as a reclusive spinster. However, this comedy explores her relationship with her sister-in-law Susan, to whom Emily’s letters reveal a much different side than popular thought.. April 12

The Most Dangerous Year

(Passion River) Vlada Knowlton. For the transgender community, it is generally agreed upon that 2016 was one of the most dangerous years for that community ever as several states considered banning transgenders from using public restrooms of the gender they identified with. This deeply personal documentary (the filmmaker’s daughter is a transgender) highlights the human side of that controversial equation. April 12

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

(Kino-Lorber) Wei Tang, Jue Huang, Sylvia Chang, Hong-Chi Lee. This Chinese art house hit follows a lonely man returning to his native province where he reminisces about a mysterious woman whom he met 20 years earlier. Apparently, the hour-long climax was done in one single shot. Like most of director Gan Bi’s work, this is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. April 12

Satan & Adam

(Cargo) Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee, Adam Gussow, Al Sharpton, The Edge. This duo of street musicians known as Satan and Adam couldn’t have been more different; one was a veteran Mississippi delta blues man who backed up the likes of Etta James and James Brown (at the Apollo Theater no less), the other an Ivy League-educated harmonica player. Together though they made music that would make Old Scratch himself dance a jig. April 12

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

(Screen Media) Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgård, Olga Kurylenko. This long-awaited Terry Gilliam film finally sees the light of day! An acclaimed but cynical film director gets sucked into the delusions of a Spanish cobbler who believes himself to be Don Quixote de la Mancha and the director to be Sancho Panza. As the delusion becomes increasingly surreal, the director is forced to confront the repercussions of a film he made as a young man that devastated a Spanish village and the impending mortality of the cobbler. April 10 (Fathom Releases)

Under the Silver Lake

(A24) Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Jimmi Simpson. A young man whose life is going nowhere meets an effervescent young woman frolicking in the pool of his apartment complex and makes a connection – or so he thinks. When she seemingly disappears the next morning, he goes on a quest searching L.A. for hidden clues to find the girl of his dreams. April 19

The White Crow

(Sony Classics) Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adele Exarchopoulos. Rudolf Nureyev was perhaps the greatest dancer in the world. The Soviet Union used him as a political symbol of Soviet superiority in the arts. At the height of the Cold War, he defected – an act that was much more complicated than it sounds. April 26