Bi Gan’s follow-up to Kaili Blues is a stylish noir which drifts through a fluid world of dreams, memories and languid conversations as its protagonist looks for people from his past. A technically ambitious venture, the film’s definite high point is the 59-minute 3D long take that makes up its second half.
In Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a step into the past sets its lead character on a path ridden with dreams, memories and obsessions. Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returns to his hometown Kaili, from where he had fled many years ago, to attend his father’s funeral but slowly gets embroiled in his pursuit of his childhood friend Wildcat’s murderer and more so of a woman named Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei) who he had once been in love with.
Luo recalls an encounter with her where she, dressed in green had walked alongside his car in a rain-soaked dark tunnel as he had eyed her through his windshield. But dreams and reality, memories and imagination get increasingly entwined, their boundaries blurred as plot takes a backseat in the film to give way to sensations and a mesmeric cinematic experience.
The film takes great care in building its specific mood and atmosphere. The neon-tinted, rain swept city streets that Luo walks through, the reflections and droplets of rain on glass surfaces and windscreens, and the food stalls, buildings and store fronts all bathed in soaking reds and blues give the film its distinct look while associations with guns, crime and mob bosses situate it within the world of noir. And yet it thematically abandons that world to journey into one man’s thoughts and reminiscences which drift through and involve several women.
As in dreams, symbols and visuals recur in Journey – the clock that Lou’s father drank alone in front of and in which he finds an old photograph, broken watches which like clocks are symbols of eternity, a green book containing a spell which if recited could make a house spin, apples that people bite into when they are sad, staircases that are slowly and tediously scaled, honey which is stirred into glasses and fireworks that are symbols of the transitory. Closed, dark spaces such as tunnels and mineshafts perhaps containing echoes of deeper, internal spaces are present and the film speaks of Lou being caught in a maze as he searches for one woman. Structurally too, with its long, slow, winding movements which never seem to settle anywhere, the film resembles a maze.
Halfway through the film, as Lou puts on his 3D glasses in a movie theatre, it becomes a signal, as the film’s title card announces, for the audience to put on theirs. And from there on Bi Gan embarks on a technical feat which will take his protagonist on a cable car with the help of a spinning paddle and into a village where he will before long fly with a woman who reminds him of his old love – all in a single take, in an extraordinary culmination of all his experimentations with time and space.
Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2018 runs from 25 Oct-1 Nov. mumbaifilmfestival.com