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Review: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Somehow, Bi Gan’s film is self-aware and fluid as its own viewing experience, yet inextricable from its loud-and-clear influences.

3.0

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Long Day’s Journey into Night
Photo: Kino Lorber

The Chinese poster for writer-director Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night would look amateurish for a film of its pedigree if it weren’t in fact a charcoal-pencil remake of Promenade, Marc Chagall’s 1918 painting of a man anchored to the ground while clutching the hand of a woman floating above him. Good luck finding a filmmaker who better exemplifies Godard’s fridge-magnet-ready inspirational quote that “it’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to” than Bi, only 29 years of age and fêted by cinephiles worldwide for his hypnotic 2015 feature-length debut Kaili Blues.

Like that film, Long Day’s Journey into Night plays gorgeously as a swirling mood piece, an epic rumination on memory and loss. The plot bears zero resemblance to the 1941 Eugene O’Neill play of same name; Bi told interviewers he just appreciated the vibe of the title, but this proves yet another feint. The Chinese title is Last Evenings on Earth, which, in turn, is the name of a 1997 collection of short stories by Roberto Bolaño. And as promised by the Chinese poster, “on Earth” alludes to a variety of routes of passage—or transcendence—made real by Bi’s filmmaking, for which clichés like “bravura” or “virtuosic” feel inadequate but apply nevertheless.

Long Day’s Journey into Night is ostensibly a film noir split into two disparate halves, the first of which jumps between the present day and the turn of the millennium. Such as it is, the story follows Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), a former casino manager who’s returned to his hometown of Kaili, in the mountainous southwestern province of Guizhou (where Kaili Blues took place and where, in real life, Bi would still be drilling rocks if it weren’t for his prowess as a filmmaker). While Luo is back in town for his father’s funeral, he finds himself sidetracked in pursuit of Wan Quiwen (Tang Wei), a woman with whom he had a torrid affair back in the year 2000. Bi stages Luo’s memories of their relationship as fragmented, almost repressed. Within either timeline, the air is thick with remorse and snuffed-out opportunity. They talked about escaping to Macau together, but it’s obvious that it never happened. Indeed, one begins to suspect it never could have. While Bi’s film is more lyrical than political, it’s impossible to miss the evidence of accumulated personal capital that has sprung up in the interceding 18 years, to say nothing of the fear of police.

Ruminating on the wreckage of his life between cigarette drags, Luo perfectly fits the mold of a noir antihero, complete with an embittered voiceover narration that often dips into Wong Kar-Wai territory, but above all else he’s a survivor, plodding forward in a world that’s hazy, drenched in color, and often cruel. He recounts, in elliptical fragments, the death of his friend Wildcat (Li Hongqi) at the hands of local mafiosos—men with whom Wan was also mixed up. At one point, he visits a women’s prison to see a friend of hers, who recounts a story of committing petty burglary with Luo’s lost lover, and as she loses herself in the recollection of the memory, the walls behind her—and eventually, Luo as well—begin to slowly move even while the speakers remain stationary on either side of the fence separating them.

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It’s style as substance, form as function, mimesis as poesis—just another instance of Bi’s unabashedness in “showing the work.” The dialogue, too, constantly risks giving itself away. Describing a tenant who would become his wife (and later ex-wife), a friend of Luo’s says, “She was such a good storyteller, I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fake.” Singing along to a doleful pop song on the radio, one of the Kaili gangsters whines: “Falling in love with you, I erase everything.” But instead of short-circuiting a single sweeping subtext to be revealed later, these lines merely amplify the film’s punch-drunk, sorrowful texture, blurring memory and hallucination into one: from “The difference between films and memory is that films are always false” to “I could only talk to myself in my dream.” Bi’s film is almost obstinately romantic, as deep or as shallow as its audience is willing to allow.

Even if Bi is a “visionary storyteller,” the film betrays him as a uniquely internet-era cinephile: In addition to literature, he pulls inspiration from video games, poetry, myth, and, naturally, other filmmakers. One of the characters in Kaili Blues kept referring back to a book of poems called Roadside Picnic, which is the name of the 1972 novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky that’s the basis for Tarkovksy’s Stalker. Like Kaili Blues, Long Day’s Journey into Night climaxes in a slow-burn set piece (this time, meant to be watched in 3D), a 50-minute single take made possible only through drone cinematography and seamless digital compositing—another fact Bi hasn’t been shy about. It functions as a kind of detournement of the almighty single take embraced by the generation reared on Stone and Scorsese, where every last wag of the camera takes on the significance of punctuation marks in a sentence.

Instead, Bi’s long take collapses Luo’s centrality as the main character, inviting the audience to alternatingly be within and outside the film, to forget the camera entirely. After Luo makes an uneasy friendship with a shit-talking preteen who may or may not be the ghost of Wildcat haunting his memories, a lengthy sweep sees Luo descending via tram into an open-air billiards hall on the outskirts of a mining complex, simultaneously evoking both Dante and the mechanical set-and-resetting of a roller coaster.

It’s maddening—if not impossible—to find a point from which to criticize Long Day’s Journey into Night that’s germane to the film itself. Much like the infamous Vertigo zoom, wherein the camera zooms in and pulls back at the same time, miring the actor in the center of the frame while the area behind them both shrinks and hurdles closer to the viewer, Bi’s film performs sleights that don’t pretend to be more than the sum of their parts. (Another metaphor announces itself loud and clear: a ping-pong paddle with a bird on either side, which “flies” when spun at its handle, a thaumatrope.)

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Somehow, Bi’s film is self-aware and fluid as its own viewing experience, yet inextricable from its influences. While several scenes function as miniature remakes from Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Tarantino, and others, the viewer who doesn’t instantly clock these grace notes as borrowed stands the best chance of sitting back and having their mind blown for two straight hours. The film will strike at least one chord, if not all of them, with anyone who has tried to outrun their own mistakes while, at the same time, searching, perhaps endlessly, for one more glimpse at a face from the past.

Cast: Huang Jue, Tang Wei, Sylvia Chang, Lee Hong-Chi, Zeng Meihuizi Director: Bi Gan Screenwriter: Bi Gan Distributor: Kino Lorber Running Time: 128 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

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Awards

2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

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Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

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Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

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