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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)

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[..] 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)

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[..] 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.

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[..] 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)


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[..]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)


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[..] 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)


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[..]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)


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[..] 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. [..]


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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. [..]


1 comment:

Clipping Path said...

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