Unspoken Cinema 2012 banner

Saturday, May 25, 2019

IT MUST BE HEAVEN (Elia Suleiman) - Press conference Cannes 2019

 Elia Suleiman admitted being a fan of Jacques Tati. But also a fan of Roy Andersson's films and Tsai Ming-liang's films. Really interesting words on silence in his films too.

It Must Be Heaven received a Special Mention at Cannes 2019.

Elia Suleiman hadn't make a new film for 10 years since The Time That Remains (2009)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Press Review (An Elephant Sitting Still)

HU Bo (1988-2017)

[..] Despite the constant antagonism, the soundtrack is largely drained of ambient sounds. The resulting quiet combines with the predominance of facial close-ups and extensive use of shallow focus, which keeps the surroundings indistinct most of the time, to generate a heightened sense of intimacy that reflects the characters’ self-absorption and lack of perspective. [..]
An Elephant Sitting Still review: a shattering, soul-searching Chinese one-off (Giovanni Marchini Camia; 13 dec 2018; Sight & Sound)

* * *

[..] but his [Jin's] most memorable episode in the story is his visit to the retirement home to check it out – a sequence as hellish as the tour of the hospital basement in the second part of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century (2006). Wang represents the film’s voice of age and experience. [..]
Elephant assuredly has death on its mind: four people die in the course of the story, only one of old age. The underlying vision is inescapably bleak. But the overall tone is far from pessimistic: the emphasis on stoic resistance, on inner fortitude, on faces grappling with moral doubts, makes the film much more engaging than, say, Peter Emmanuel Goldman’s profoundly depressing Echoes of Silence (1965). [..]
Film of the week: An Elephant Sitting Still is a howl of desperate defiance (Tony Rayns; 13 dec 2018; Sight & Sound)

* * *
[..] A voiceover opens the film with a parable about an elephant that sits motionless in the city of Manzhouli, closing its eyes to the chaos of its surroundings. Hu seems to suggest that ignorance is a means of survival or, for some, the humiliation of daily life is immobilising. [..]
Though he often uses long takes in the style of his mentor Tarr, this doesn’t feel like slow cinema. The camera is mesmerising and frequently in motion, Steadicam trailing and circling the characters closely, with them until the film’s bittersweet end.

* * *

[..] If the characters seem desolate they also seem alienated in the full sense of the word. For much of the film the main characters are more introspective than social. When they do carry out actions involving other people it seems misdirected, illegal or just likely to go wrong. [..]
But Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies / Werckmeister harmóniák (2000) features a whale that seems to represent the alienation of the village setting; perhaps an influence. [..]
 An Elephant Sitting Still(Da xiang xi di er zuo, China 2018) (15 jan 2019; The Case for Global Film)

* * *

[..]The film is a masterwork of a rare sort, perhaps of a unique sort, among young directors: others, notably Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, and Chantal Akerman, have transformed the cinema enduringly while in their twenties. But all three create aesthetic realms that fuse with personal experiences and philosophical ideas in a sort of preternaturally precocious leap of abstraction.
Hu, by contrast, is as much a documentarian as he is an aesthete; the emotional complexity of his observations are matched by his clear-eyed and uncompromising view of the locale and of his society at large.[..]
In depicting a society that inflicts cruelty and violence on a large scale and reflects it intimately, Hu has created a crucial modern work of political cinema.[..]
Street fighting, casual insults, easy rudeness, and brazen scams and frauds among the local citizenry are matched by cavalier political power. [..]
Hu’s method is no mere theatrical recording or efficient staging; he relies on the dashing, floating, pressing, retreating camera to construct the action and to analyze it dramatically. For Hu, the camera is as much a matter of exclusion from the frame as inclusion. The distance of characters from the camera—who’s facing and who’s not, who’s in and who’s out—is as crucial to the movie’s emotional power as is its action.[..]
Without a glimmer of mysticism or spirituality, “An Elephant Standing Still” is metaphysical.
A Young Chinese Filmmaker's Masterly Portrait of Political and Intimate Despair (Richard Brody; 6 march 2019; The New Yorker)

* * *

[..] This is a film in which people tend not to take responsibility for their own actions. When he discovers that his relationship with Huang Ling is exposed, the vice-dean flips: his career is ruined, he says, and it’s all down to her. When Wang Jin confronts the owners of the dog that killed his beloved pet, they turn nasty, concerned only about their own precious Pipi. [..]
An Elephant Sitting Still is so artfully composed, narratively and visually, that you don’t always notice what’s going on or how cleverly it’s done, but it’s often done by emphasizing certain visual elements while downplaying others—a method that ensures that you’re paying attention. [..]
[..] This legendary creature [the titular elephant] is this film’s answer to the preserved whale around which the world’s chaos and violence revolve in Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies: like that fabulous giant, Hu’s elephant is a hazy nexus of unfixable, possibly terrifying meanings.[..]
Film of the week : An Elephant Sitting Still (Jonathan Romney; 8 march 2019; Film Comment)

* * *

[..]Unsparing as Hu’s anatomy of moral drift may be, there is something graceful in his sympathetic attention to lives defined almost entirely by disappointment and diminished hope. Unlike the titular elephant, the film never stops moving, and by the end, instead of feeling beaten down, the viewer is likely to feel moved as well.[..]
'An Elephant Sitting Still' Review : Bleak, Graceful Realism (A.O.Scott; 6 march 2019; NYT)

* * *

[..] Some of this is doubtless due to Hu’s follow-from-behind shooting style (shot by Fan Chao), which feels deliberately pitched between an RPG video game and Dardennes-style verité. [..]
The murky landscape, marked by the distant sound of industry, recalls Pedro Costa’s Fontainhas films and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert through a low-grade digital filter. [..]
The film’s gritty, mundane agonies come to feel like a series of moral tests with genuinely unpredictable outcomes. [..]

* * *

A mournful, magisterial, and often moving debut feature, Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still might best be described as a contemplation of despair—or, more specifically, as an incremental, painful probing of how much a single person can bear before they're driven to tragic release. [..]
The opening passage, which cuts between its four principals and a snowy void, immediately locates An Elephant Sitting Still in a pensive, liminal space far afield from kitchen-sink realism.[..]
At the same time, the film's numerous fractious relationships, often defined by a generational divide, are so drained of the usual markers of tenderness and warmth that they register as affected, recalling, through notably different stylistic means, the stark, "model"-like interactions in the films of Robert Bresson, whose The Devil, Probably (1977) serves as a useful model for Hu's feature.[..]
As shot by cinematographer Fan Chau, the film is almost perversely drained of color, composed largely of stark whites and ash-gray tones—and yet it’s part of Hu’s methodology that we find infinite variation within this narrow register, that this spatiotemporal slice should feel boundless the more we look at it. [..]

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Spoiler Territory (An Elephant Sitting Still)



A 16 years-old student at the worst high-school in town, wakes up to a salvo of insults from his abusive father because he opened a window when stray garbage stinks outside, because he supposedly stole her mom’s coupon… Bu joins his best-friend, LI Kai, who is accused by YU Shuai, the school bully, of stealing his smart phone to confront him. At recess he’s rejected by his crush Ling. After a vehement argument and a violent push from Bu, the bully falls down a flight of stairs and is evacuated to the hospital. Bu is on the run, to escape the authorities and the angry family. He looks for money at his grandma only to find her dead in her sleep. He goes straight to his big borther’s who lives nearby to announce the bad news and gets insulted. Desperate for cash, he fetches his cherished billiard cue at the club, where he almost meet Cheng who’s on the lookout for him. He resorts to sell his cue to his neighbour Jin, after assisting him with the harassment of the owner of his dog’s killer. At the familiar monkeys pavilion of the local zoo, he meets in secret Ling, who refuses to go to Manhzouli with him. Following Ling to a restaurant outside of which he meets Cheng who doesn’t recognize him. Encouraged by Cheng, he writes down a threat letter to his rival : « You’re screwed » and sticks it on the restaurant window. Betrayed and deceived by his best-friend, he roams alone in the city, en route for Manhzouli. At Shuai’s hospital he sees Shuai’s big brother, Cheng. In the street he steals the Jianzi shuttlecock off of a group of elderly he insults copiously, losing all respects for the ancients and the paternal figure, which puts a momentary smile on his face. The sacred taboo is broken because he’s now a criminal. At a deserted riverbank dumpster, he yells his lungs out that this world is full of shit. Unfortunately he buys a fake train ticket to a street dealer who happens to work for Cheng. But Cheng pities him and let him go to Manzhouli.

YU Cheng

A local thug, wakes up in bed next to his best-friend’s wife. His best friend shows up at the door of this apartment he couldn’t afford, to find Cheng hidden in the bedroom. After a long pause in silence, losing both his wife and best friend at once, he’s had enough of this world and proceeds to jump out of the window to his death. Cheng barely budges or flinches. Though he rushes downstairs to witness the dead body laying at the bottom of the building. He blames the wife for the incident in a one-sided argument. He’s then on the phone with his best friend’s mother who is flying over immediately. But he could not pick her up at the airport. The mother is now at her son’s apartment where he committed suicide, and sits a lingering moment with Cheng who puts on a straight face. Cheng meets Bu outside a restaurant without recognizing him, and encourages him to do something about his girlfriend going out with an older man. Cheng meets his ex-girlfriend in a tunnel, where she lets him know that he should give up, because they’re no match. But before that, he took her to a restaurant where the kitchen caught fire. And Cheng took it on himself to save the burnt cook, for the first time caring for somebody else’s life. Cheng catches up with Bu, who bought a fake train ticket from one of his henchmen. Cheng pities him and buys him a ticket to Manzhouli. But Bu’s best friend shows up with his dad’s gun and hurts Cheng in the leg.


A 60-year-old retiree, wakes up with his small faithful white dog, on the balcony of his own apartment, utilized by his daughter and family, who desperately try to convince him to move to a nursing home. He’s Bu’s neighbour. After an altercation with his daughter, he exits to walk his dog in the streets. There he faces a stray dog, recently lost by its owner. A big white dog who attacks his little dog and kills it. Fortunately the owners posted lost dog notices on the street so he could track them down. At the door of the owner’s apartment he asks for excuses and compensation but he’s received by arrogance and insults. Bu meets him on the river bank where Jin disposed of his dog’s dead body. Bu begs him to buy his cue in order for him to buy himself a ticket to Manzhouli. Down in the street Jin is followed and harassed by the owner in his car. Bu stands his ground and threatens to scratch his car. Jin finally accepts to buy his cue. Former military, he’s not afraid of Cheng henchmen who hold him captive because he now owns Bu’s recognizable cue. With his new cue, he visits the nursing home with all the sickly elderly in a long and sad corridor. He follows his grand-daughter in the street and « kidnap » her to take her to Manzhouli.


A lovely 16 years-old teenager (today is her birthday), Bu’s schoolmate, wakes up alone, as her mom passed out on the couch, and there is a leak in the bathroom again. She yells at her derisive mother who yells at her.
Ling turns down a date with Bu in the afternoon because she’s busy. Indeed she is having an affair in secret with the vice principal of her school. But after the incident between Bu and Shuai, she joins him, on the loose, at the monkeys pavilion where he often goes. There she refuses to go to Manzhouli with him where he envisioned to live with her, earning money with his foot juggling skills (Jianzi shuttlecock). She laughs at him and leaves. At the restaurant she meets her adultery lover who bought her a yellow rose and a birthday cake. Bu shows up and disturbs their date with a threat note on the restaurant window. Back at home, she talks to her mother who begs her not to become pregnant. At the hotel, she believes to be happy, treated right by an older man, possibly a father figure missing in her life. Up to the point when her affair becomes a viral Internet scandal. Then, he becomes aggressive and insulting because they’ve been spotted together at a karaoke, thus ruining his school career for ever…
She returns back home where her mom is confronted by the vice principal and his wife. She sneaks out, but soon comes back with a baseball bat to hit the two intruders in front of her mom.
Now she’s on the run as well and joins Bu at the station to reach Manzhouli eventually...

Unrequited love

Love is hard to get. Not to mention tough love from their parents (or son for Jin), the main characters experience unrequited love (except for Jin who is loved to bits by his granddaughter). Cheng is dumped by his girlfriend, and rebounds right away with the wife of his best friend. Bu has a crush on his classmate Ling who disregards him because she has an affair with the school vice principal. But soon she learns that love isn't eternal, especially with an older man who is fine to take her to the karaoke, restaurant and hotel until he's caught red handed. Then love turns sour and he insults her as if she brought that onto him. And Jin is all alone (possibly widower), only living for the attention he gets from his granddaughter who is caught between her parents and her favourite grandpa.

Losing face and honor

The tables turned when Cheng faces his mom and dad, at the door of the hospital room where his baby brother is dying. The thug becomes bullied by his parents who he pays respect to even while being yelled at and insulted. They reproach him not doing enough to avenge the honor of his brother who was defeated, injured and ultimately killed by his schoolmate Bu. Losing face is the ultimate humiliation in China. But respecting elders (especially the family elders) is utmost important. Cheng dislikes his brother, a nobody, and lacks the motivation to pursue his killer as well as he should.
One person though is not ready to lose face, and fights back. It’s the owner of the killer dog. When confronted with the remains of a beloved pet in a plastic bag, he starts off by denying any implication of his dog. Then he blames Jin for hiding his missing dog. Finally he follows Jin down the street in his car to insult him. Bu who wants to obtain money from him, stands as an eye witness of the earlier carnage and confronts the owner. He threatens to scratch his car with a rock three times, and three times the owner dares him before pushing him on the floor with his foot. Three times Bu rises again and fails to touch the car. This small incident is enough to earn him the heart of Jin, who finally accepts the deposit of his pool cue. By being humiliated by the owner, he somehow avenged the honor of Jin.


The certitude of mortality menaces throughout the film. Its apprehension overshadows the mundane lives of brave personalities.The film begins with a traumatic error causing the precipitous suicide, out of passion, of a novel cuckold. Bu’s best friend pretends to put his dad’s stolen gun to his temple, before, by the end of the film, pulls the trigger with the same gun and take his own life off screen as a train sounds off in an epic 20 min plan séquence. Shuai falls down the stairs to his death, turning a heroic act of self defense into a murder Bu will have to live with for the rest of his life. Casual accident turning into a life sentence. Jin’s little dog is killed rabidly by an enormous stray dog for no apparent reason. Bu’s grandmother is found on her deathbed, who died of her natural death, leaving Bu alone, depriving him of a precious ally in the family that hates him.

Follow up : A press review (An Elephant Sitting Still) Third part

Read also :

Monday, February 11, 2019

Contrechamp interdit (An Elephant Sitting Still)

The elephant in the room

A man wakes up and murmurs to his lover : « They say there is an elephant in Manhzouli, it sits there all day long and ignores the world. Or maybe it just enjoys sitting there. » The quirky reputation of this elusive pachyderm becomes a symbol of liberation, escapism and flat out defiance for a handful of protagonists living, or surviving, in an indistinct smoggy city of North-East China.
The reason the still elephant fascinates the characters of this film might be because he’s so mysteriously impervious to the world of pain around him. Maybe they all crave to reach this stoic state of mind, to face the overbearing troubles in their lives, like the Elephant-Buddha.
But this enigmatic eponymous animal could be none other than the spectators themselves… sitting still in front of the silver screen while the world rushes around them at an accelerated pace. Contemplative Cinema aficionados are the last survivors of a post-electronic age. And this film is the cemetery for all these brave elephants.
We are simultaneously reminded of the parable of the Blind Men feeling an elephant by its constituting parts without managing to make sense of the whole picture. One feels the trunk and believes it’s a snake. One feels the side and believe it’s a wall… The film is somehow built in this manner, with four alienated parties missing an outsider’s perspective to fully understand their situation and be understood. Four interlacing pathways.

Director’s Statement

“He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought that the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.” (All the Pretty Horses ; Cormac McCarthy ; 1992)

« This quote from Cormac McCarthy is also the subject of this film. In our age, it’s increasingly hard for us to have faith even in the tiniest of things, and the frustration from which becomes the hallmark of today’s society. The film builds up personal myths in between daily routines. In the end, everyone loses what he or she values the most. »
(HU Bo ; 2017)

Cryptic synopsis

Four portraits of solitudes and humiliations. WEI Bu, high-school student, will get involved in an accident with the school bully in order to defend his best friend. YU Cheng, the bully’s older brother and gangster himself, will push his best friend to extreme lengths because he slept with his wife. WANG Jin, 60-year-old, is begged to move to a nursing home by his son. HUANG Ling, Bu’s crush, fears the consequences of an Internet scandal. The four of them are victims, alienated by their family and friends. Crossing path at some point with one another, always on the move, they all pursue this inscrutable elephant sitting still in Manchuria.

Interlacing pathways

The near-4h long film runs the course of a diegetic day, from dawn tilll dawn. 24 hours of a tragic turn of events, that will collide four persons’ individual lives of three generations and a bunch of side characters, family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Maybe the worst day of their lives. Each protagonist is introduced in the morning separately, in their bed, at home within their family. One after the other, they go about their day, arguing with their loved ones for no reason until a tragedy shatters their preconceptions and alter their life for the worst. Four tragedies involving death or scandal for the least. HU Bo cross-cuts between stories alternatively, never before the 5 min mark. And the segments grow longer as the pathways begin to interlace and interact. Until three out of four protagonists join and take a trip together (but each alone).

The focus zone. Who is left out of focus?

HU Bo carefully composes his frames, always with a powerful foreground. A figure in close-up who consumes the screen almost entirely. The shallow focus sends everything to the background in a blur. And HU Bo doesn’t track focus on the talking person. His rule is to keep the massive close-up figure in sharp focus even when they are only listening or idling. Our eyes sweep the screen for moving details or secondary characters, in vain. Sometimes the face in the foreground close up is in the blur and the main character is in the middle ground. Only when two or three main characters share the same shot do they benefit from a deep focus.
The fixated focus plan reminds us that the point of view of the four main characters only prevails. They are the only persons we should look at (the others are relegated to the corner of our eyes).They are the ones who have a voice in HU Bo’s film. Their environment and the surrounding people are eternally out of focus, as if at a distance, an insurmountable no man’s land that separates the I from Them. The others. These people who fail to understand us, who blame us for everything, who judge our motivation, who invariably miscommunicate, who refuse to listen. HU Bo keeps this dispositif (device) even for a « nape shot ».

Nape camera

Popularised by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne in Rosetta (1999), the « nape shot » or tracking shot from behind, following the footsteps of a characters with always his/her back to the camera, is abundantly utilised by HU Bo in this road movie on foot. Much like Rosetta, where a single protagonist was followed around in her grim daily routine, An Elephant Sitting Still follows around four protagonists alternatively, mostly in nape shots, seldom in frontal shots. The nape shot in shallow focus, puts all the environment in front of the protagonists and the people they meet in a blurry background. The protagonists in medium close up, back to the camera, occupy half of the screen, in sharp focus. We are denied reading the feelings of the protagonists directly in their eyes and on their face. It is frustrating at first but engaging us to project our thoughts. Béla Tarr is also fond of the nape shot, especially in Satantango (1994).


The Dardenne brothers might be an influence on HU Bo, possibly, but what is certain is that Tarr was his mentor at a workshop of the Xining FIRST festival in 2016 when he developed his script under the supervision of the CCC (Contemporary Contemplative Cinema) master. There is more BélaTarr in An Elephant Sitting Still than there are influences from Chinese masters, because of the darker lighting, the greyscale palette (even though it’s not in black and white), the gloomy society, the depressed characters, the illusion of hope and the disappointment. This said, Chinese CCC masters such as Wang Bing (Three Sisters, 2012) or Jia Zhangke (Unknown Pleasures, 2003) from the Sixth Generation, have blazed the trail for the coming of the 8th Generation.

8th generation

Bi Gan made his debut at 25 year old (Kaili Blues; 2015), and HU Bo at 29 year-old (An Elephant Sitting Still; 2018).Together they represent the brand new Eighth generation of Chinese cinema, according to Pierre Rissient, cinéphile par excellence (who passed away last year). HU Bo passed away in October 2017 after the post-production of his film. Thanks to the achievements of their CCC predecessors, thanks to the support of film festivals, HU Bo and BI Gan have begun their career on a high note. HU Bo with a 4h long debut film. BI Gan with two films ending in a near 50min long take.



Visual ellipses are in the frame (shallow focus, nape shot) as well as off screen. The true violence is kept at bay, behind the frame boundaries. When the dog is killed, the camera pans on an onlooker. When someone commits suicide, the camera lets the victim rush off screen or shifts to the side, leaving on screen the face of a witness.
Violence plays out off screen, perhaps because gory action is the most difficult to produce on set without a budget, CGI or stunts. There is a scene where one character rushes in a kitchen on fire to save the burnt cook, and the camera sees the protagonist enter the kitchen, disappear behind a blank wall, in front of which the camera tracks laterally to reveal the result through a window at the other end of the wall. A kind of lateral travelling shot reminiscent of Béla Tarr & Agnès Hranitzky’s Satantango or Damnation (2005).
A temporal ellipsis is also present. One single plan séquence is shot simultaneously from two different points of view and played back to back. One from the point of view of Bu with Cheng, in the street outside a restaurant. And the other is from the point of view of Ling with the school principal, inside the restaurant. Two perspectives of the lunch of an adultery couple. Ling exists the restaurant to chase Bu at the end of the first take, and enters the restaurant at the beginning of the second take, which could be mistaken for a continuity shot… Only after a while do we realise the film just jumped back in time, to rewind a few minutes and offer a new perspective on the same scene.

Darker lighting

Spectators who come out of this marathon screening might recall erroneously a black and white film. However the film is truly in colours, albeit faint colours and grey scales, just like the smoggy city hosting these characters. The whole film is bathed in under lit spaces, without fill in lighting. This creates a sense of doom and gloom prospect in all the shots. The actors aren’t stars, figuratively as well as metaphorically. Unlike a Hollywood star there is no bright light shining on them everywhere they go. The star of the picture is the environment, with a crude light, dim, obscure.

Contemplative mode

HU Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still shares the same narrative mode of Contemporary Contemplative Cinema and each aspect resembles a CCC master.
Plotlessness. No plot, except for the visceral reaction of four people against a sudden tragedy, and their meandering trajectory ejected from a comfort zone orbit. His drastic script resembles Darejan Omirbaev.
Slowness. Long takes (plan séquence) and sedentary camera recording the mundane routines in their entirety. The visual style of the camerawork resembles Béla Tarr.
Alienation. There is a general sense of ennui, a feeling of solitude, a world of confusion. Each in their own peculiar way, the characters are left alone in the world, alienated from their family and friends. The darkness and hopelessness resembles Lav Diaz.
Wordlessness. Not necessarily silent nor speechy, the dialogues are merely natural conversations, laconic arguments. Actions are more powerful than words. Actions of the body in its context and the repercussions of its deployment. As few a word as Jia Zhangke.
The CCC trademarks underline HU Bo’s mise en scène, creating a recognizable genre of a placid crime story with the bullies and the victims. Nonetheless, he developed his idiosyncratic style, like no other CCC master before him, with his focus delimitation and his absence of counter shots.

Portrait of a city. Portrait of a world.

Manhzouli, border-city between Manchuria and Russia, where this funny circus has settled, is a goal-post destination, an Eldorado, an obsession for the four protagonists. Yet the Eldorado in China away from China is the obsession of the new independent Chinese cinema. And all the routes, of lonely individuals, lead to Manhzouli, eventually. Manhzouli is the ideal city, away from home, near the border in order to escape the Chinese empire.

Cheng : « The World is a wasteland. »

On the other hand the city they live in, nondescript city of the North-East, represents the harsh reality of Chinese way of life, away from the stereotypes of crazy rich capitalists in the capitals and the idealised countryside of pastoral fables. This concrete city is closer to the realist China of Wang Bing. Bu, Ling, and their friends attend the worst high-school in town, which is bound to shut down. Grey, dirty, rusty, smelly, dangerous, foggy paint for a world à la Dickens or Zola, egoistic, oppressive, unjust. We are recalling JiaZhangke’s Unknown Pleasures (2002) or The World (2004).


It has become commonplace in Slow Cinema defense to say of a film over topping the mainstream average (90-120min) that it feels shorter or not as long. It is the case here. 230 min is physically twice longer than what a standard audience would tolerate, in spite of being less exhausting. Yet the slow pace feels in constant activity, even through the pedestrian journeys from point A to point B. The stories flow continuously without a laborious accumulation of useless information. Events are inflated to resemble real life span.
When you get the chance to spend 3h50 minutes with four characters, they become friends, they become real persons we know inside out. There is a new emotional regimen at work in the identification to the protagonists after a patient attention. Instead of the content of psychological dialogues, it’s the sympathetic time spend together that forges an enduring rapport with the taciturn heroes.
4 hours (or close to that) is an ambitious stretch of time for a debut film. Even the specialist like Lav Diaz (he’s made films lasting over 12h) started his career with a « normal » feature length. HU Bo did have an open conflict with his producers to keep the final cut on a full version, which he always had in mind before shooting.

Small times

The long take is the director’s stylistic choice, which tends to comply with the CCC canon. But detractors (or confused critics) often point out to the lack of obvious motivation for this choice. A futile editing job that eschews any decision to cut. « They don’t know when to cut ! », they say.
Sometimes the cut comes in a little later than the effective cut on action. Sometimes the cut drags a little bit after the action ends to let the spectator contemplate what has just been seen, and what will come next. The Hollywood edit doesn’t let you think about images that are successively bombarded into your passive retina.
HU Bo draws attention to the dead times, after and around actions. People’s displacements become, in full, integer part of the film. They inhabit their world measuring it at length by foot. Without a clear map of this unknown city, we nonetheless figure out exactly how far they live from one another, and how small is their society.
Bu is filmed intently in the hall at the bottom of his project building staircase. What is he doing ? He rubs the end of a matchstick against the derelict cement of the wall, where he spat on his saliva, to form a ball that will stick to the ceiling after he’s lit it on fire and thrown it in the air. The camera pans up and reveals a ceiling clustered with splashes of soot around the burnt matchsticks sticking down.

Contrechamp interdit (Forbidden counter shot)

No establishing shot, no cutaway, no deep focus, no shot-counter shot. HU Bo films uniquely with plan séquences sans counter shot. Thusly limiting the spectator’s perspective to the protagonist viewpoint in each shot, where the hero of the sequence is in a foreground close up (as seen previously). André Bazin, in his most famous piece « Montage interdit » (in « Qu’est-ce que le cinéma ? », 1958), declared the forbidden edit in certain cases where the action requires to show two characters / events in the same frame at the same time, to prove the simultaneity of actions. For example to show the predator and the prey in the same shot.
Paraphrasing Bazin, we could evoke a forbidden counter shot here, similarly related to the forbidden edit for ethical reasons. Here the shot (a plan séquence) has only one side to it, one version of truth, one bias, one point of view.

Read also :