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December 10, 2019

Long Day's Journey into Night


Diqiu zuihou de yewan
Bi Gan - 2018
Kino Lorber BD Region A two-disc set

I might have more questions than answers on this film. Like the title, taken from the play by Eugene O'Neill
but having nothing to do with that work. Bi's film could well have been titled Journey to the End of the Night or In Search of Lost Time, not relating directly to the literary sources, but titles that would have worked just as well.

More problematic is the now legendary second half of the film which was made to be seen in 3D. If the viewer is unable to see Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan's film as he intended, is that still a valid viewing experience? And is it the responsibility of the distributor to have the film screened in 3D unless there is no other available option? I skipped seeing Journey theatrically in Denver because the theatrical run was in 2D, and in a theater that is uncomfortable in its seating. I was a bit baffled as the Godard film, Goodbye to Language was shown at a Denver area art and indie theater equipped for 3D. I can only take the word of one critic who stated that even in 2D, seeing Journey theatrically was "immersive". The blu-ray release has both a 2D version and a 3D version, although the 3D version requires a 3D capable blu-ray player. I tried to rent such a player only to come to a dead end. Further making things a little less clear is learning that the 3D sequence was filmed in 2D. The only way Bi was able to make the film he visualized was in post-production. I may be pedantic here, but the effect is somewhat analogous to being expected to accept watching a widescreen movie in the pan-and-scan version.

The story, as such, is about Luo returning home to Kaili, following the death of his father. Inheriting an old van, Luo goes on a road trip, an attempt to piece together various memories from the past. The first seventy minutes are in fractured chronological order, darting between past and present. Luo is an unreliable narrator, so what is seen may be as much of a dream as the the dream sequence. There are several shots through dirty or broken windows, space obscured by plastic sheets, people divided by various partitions. One shot is of the back window of of a car going through a car wash. One can discern some kind of movement within the back seat, but not clearly enough to say what is going on with the briefly seen arms in motion - is it a couple making love, or a murder in progress? There is an emphasis on dark passageways and blocked and confined spaces.

As for the last hour, even in 2D, it is spectacular to think that this was actually filmed in real time with no breaks, no editing tricks. The camera follows Luo traveling down on a gondola to a hidden room, out again, wandering into the wreck of a neighborhood where local performers are singing for promised prizes, into and out of a makeshift pool hall and dressing room. The camera moves in close for an intimate view and later flies above the stage and the audience. The only thing random in the take that was chosen was a horse that was temporarily out of control. The blu-ray comes with both written interviews with Bi Gan and a video interview, plus a "Making of" short that is really a two minute montage, none of which completely explains how the sequence was done.

The best reason to have the blu-ray may be that the narrative makes more sense with multiple viewings. Bi's debut feature, Kaili Blues, about a visitor who seems to be wandering around town, in pursuit and in hiding, could be seen in retrospect as a warm-up for his second film. Lines that might seem simply conversational forecast connections to scenes that appear later. While the references to several Asian celebrities may be obscure for some, there is one moment that is clearly Bi's nod at A Clockwork Orange. Bi Gan is hardly the first to observe the idea of movies as dreams, and early on, Luo makes a comparison between films and memories. Broken clocks make appearances. For Bi, time never really stops, but can be malleable.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 10, 2019 09:42 AM