Poetry, bliss, abandon: deep into Bi Gan’s indelible, narcotic masterpiece where a twenty-nine-year-old’s talent matches his imagination, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the movie sinks into a sinuous, unbroken take, a gravity-shunning traveling shot in 3-D that lasts an hour.
The director, whose first feature, “Kaili Blues” (2015), was equally attentive to time and duration in its movement across his native province of Guizhou in southwest China, creates gorgeous tableaux as well, fashioning fever dreams cool to the touch. While superficially the movie, called “Last Evenings On Earth” in Chinese (after a Roberto Bolaño short story), is neon-dreamt, lovelorn neo-noir, it is also topographical fantasia.
His imagination dazzles. Resemblances to the work of other filmmakers are eclectic and bountiful, but nourishing elements of Alain Resnais, Terrence Malick, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jia Zhangke, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and especially Wong Kar-Wai, are wholly digested. No moment feels willed, but instead reverently hallucinated. (A published poet himeself, Bi Gan is also fervent about the influence of Celan, Pessoa and Dante.)
The China distributors pulled a fine trick there, after the release of a sizzling trailer (a version is embedded below). At New Year’s, debut showings were synced to the last minute of the movie, a couple’s onscreen kiss precisely at midnight.
The film grossed $38 million that night, but the next day, the movie dropped like a stone. (Social media was not kind.) Its glistening, concrete imagery, fashioned into a time-shattered mosaic of regret, didn’t suit the taste of that country’s avid mass moviegoers. A smaller but grateful audience worldwide awaits a waking dream.
That single, singular hourlong shot accepts the fluid urgency of the subconscious mind: you might never wake. Life is but a dream and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is but a labyrinth. Bring your awe; it will be rewarded. (Late cinephile Pierre Rissient celebrated the arrival of the “Eighth Generation” of Chinese film with the release of “Long Day’s Journey” and the late Hu Bo’s “An Elephant Sitting Still.”) With Wei Tang, Jue Huang, Sylvia Chang, Hong-Chi Lee, Yongzhong Chen. 140m. 2.39 Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” opens Friday, May 10 at River East.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.