Writer-director Bi Gan follows up his auspicious debut, Kaili Blues (2015), with a second feature set in his hometown, the city of Kaili, China. This go-round, specificity of place gives way to the shifting ambiguity of time, dreams, and memory. The film’s title has nothing to do with Eugene O’Neill’s play and everything to do with the languorous slide of consciousness into twilight.
In another of several motifs that echo Kaili Blues, Long Day’s Journey follows a mysterious drifter, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), on a journey back to Kaili in search of his long-lost lover (Sylvia Chang). As she proves elusive, Hongwu retreats into the past, which impinges on the present through fragmentary flashbacks and enigmatic reveries delivered in voiceover. The ineluctable pull of the past, hints at a murder, gangsters on the prowl, and Hongwu’s romantic obsession with his mysterious femme fatale suffuse his quest with noirish overtones.
This pure cinema rhapsody culminates in an epic, bravura sequence that vaults the twenty-eight-year-old Bi into the ranks of art cinema’s most daring technicians. At the film’s midpoint, Hongwu enters a movie theater, dons 3-D glasses, and watches—as we do—a nearly sixty-minute, single-take shot that weaves impossibly and dazzlingly through dislocated, ill-defined spaces. Coming out of Cannes, where it premiered in Un Certain Regard, the film’s atmospheric, elliptical design earned Bi comparisons to Wong Kar-wai, Andrei Tarkovsky, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Max Ophuls. Sure to end up on any number of top ten lists this year, Long Day’s Journey into Night confirms the arrival of a major new voice on the international cinema scene. Description adapted from Paul Malcom. (Dir.: Bi Gan, China, 2018, 133 min., 3-D, DCP, Mandarin with English subtitles)
Image by Bai Linghai