Sunday 21 October 2018

London Film Festival 2018: Long Day's Journey Into Night by Bi Gan

While the name of Bi Gan does not mean much to many cinephiles, the young Chinese director made a big impact in France with his first film Kaili Blues so there was a certain trepidation when his second film, Long Day's Journey Into Night was announced especially since the film was said to be in 3D, always an intriguing prospect for arthouse cinema.

Rather confusingly, the first half of the film is actually in 2D. In it, Luo Hongwu returns to his hometown Kaili to search for the woman he loved and was never able to forget.

The first half of Long Day's Journey Into Night plays like an oblique, arthouse neo-noir. There are mobsters, mysterious woman and a labyrinthine plot from which most of the narrative clue seems to have been withdrawn from the audience. Sumptuously shot, it is a mystery that it one enjoy getting lost in, free from the shackles of storytelling conventions. So far so good if not particularly new and even Wong Car Wai-esque.

Except everything changes about halfway through as the lead goes to the cinema (as often happens, in life as well as in films) to watch a 3D, which is also a cue for the audience to put their 3D glasses on. What follows is a nearly hour long single shot, filmed in steady cam and 3D and among the most groundbreaking and breathtaking sequence ever seen in this history of film.

3D glasses have a grey-ing effect that can be distracting except the for the first time a director seems to have used it to its advantage, having seemingly altered the film's colour palette so that its hues appear near otherworldly (removing the glasses during this sequence shows that the luminosity has been cranked up to achieve that effect).

That sequence is as close to a dream as you will ever see in a film, one where memories of the past and the present emerge in a gentle way and with scant regards for the laws of space and time. There is no weirdly OTT surreal imagery, just the feeling that the lead is treading through his own subconscious and fragments of his memories. A segment shot on a chair lift with with a very unusual effect of perspective is particularly impressive.

As the film finishes, one might wonder if it was indeed all a dream, a cinephile fever dream.

Long Day's Journey Into Night is quite simply a filmic experience like no others before it and a staggering achievement that pushes the boundaries of cinema.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star Rating: Star rating: 

Long Day's Journey Into Night. China/France 2018. Directed by Bi Gan. Starring Jue Huang, Sylvia Chang, Wei Tang...

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