Kaili Blues (2015)

Watched this on Criterion to see what this Bi Gan guy is about, since Long Day’s Journey had apparently bypassed our city… then it opened the following weekend and we ran out to see it. They’re both set in the same area – Kaili is southeast of Chengdu, halfway to Hong Kong. Both movies center around an epic long take, the camera traveling all over town following a protagonist in pursuit of something. And they both have a slow, dreamy atmosphere. I thought of Tarkovsky more than once, and in the Kaili Blues extras he says watching Stalker changed his feelings about filmmaking, and I thought yes, of course.

Mirrors, watches/timepieces, a “wild man”, and talk of being in a dream. It’s kind of a journey film, as Chen heads to Zhenyuan (a two hour drive, if Chen had a car) to find his nephew. Characters are named Crazy Face and Piss Head, Chen gets rides from a rock band and a bullied guy, fails to deliver a shirt given by his doctor friend, also fails to pick up the nephew, though we’re led to believe the kid is fine. But there are ghosts and doubles along the way, subtle suggestions that we’ve become unstuck in time and narrative, and Shelly Kraicer’s Cinema Scope article does a good job sorting them.


A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018)

Darker, more sumptuously dreamy, and certainly longer than its predecessor (with a longer and more apparently complicated single take at the end). The Tara didn’t care to show it in 3D, I guess. Its New Year premiere in China was controversial for supposedly tricking people into seeing a slow art movie that nobody understood, but the one person I talked with in China who’d watched it said it was great.

Luo wanders Kaili, haunted by the deaths of his father and a friend, searches for a lost love (Wei Tang, Thor’s girl in Blackhat), and runs into his friend’s mom (Sylvia Chang the boss of Office, which IMDB has decided to rename Design For Living). We also meet people who may exist in alternate or dreamed timelines, which is to say that Luo beats his own non-existent son at ping pong.

Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:

By car and by foot, Luo follows her, much to her concern, and then loses her, much to his recurrent perplexion. Unable to grab onto anything solid in the present, he dips into his memories with her, flashing back to their days of being wild (circa the turn of the millennium), when her materiality was less unstable. Crime and jealous boyfriends adorn the architecture of Luo’s memories, which are presented in murky enough vignettes that we’re never sure if he’s recalling an actual event or some movie he once saw; most likely, he’s fusing the two together … If Bi’s cinema has been clear about anything so far, it’s that he is completely unburdened by narrative cohesion.

Almost the entire movie is a film director (Bogdan Dumitrache of Sieranevada) having conversations, rehearsals and affairs with his lead actress (Diana Avramut). He fakes a stomach illness, claims he had it checked by a doctor, and his producer (Mihaela Sirbu of Aferim!) has his cover story carefully verified, either to catch him in the lie or, as she says, because of picky insurance demands. Another filmmaker (Alexandru Papadopol of Toni Erdmann) pops into a dinner chat, possibly representing a future job for the actress. This is practically all that happens, and it ends abruptly – so why is it a movie? I get the self-reflexive talk about long takes and film cartridge capacity in a 35mm movie composed entirely of long takes, and after all the film-vs-video talk, video gets finally represented in the form of a colonoscopy DVD. After two long scenes where the director tries to convince the actress that a newly written nude scene is dramatically necessary and she goes over the blocking with him to verify that this is properly motivated, our movie finally shows her gratuitously topless. All this is worth a few meta-chuckles – surely I got more out of it than 12:08 East of Bucharest, and if the whole thing feels slightly pointless and the conversations go on for too long, that’s probably intentional too, for reasons I don’t feel like researching at the moment.

What verve, what style! Super-paranoid triple-agent action spy thriller starring all the best people, every scene awesome. Sure, a couple of dialogue clunkers and an overall feeling that, despite the constant life-or-death struggle, nothing really consequential is happening, but this movie is good, and I watched it at a good theater, sitting right up close.

Huge centerpiece showing in a single take how Charlize got beat to hell protecting Eddie Marsan. Poor Marsan – when you see him in a movie you just know things won’t turn out alright for him. John Goodman is CIA, Toby Jones is MI6, so who really was James McAvoy? Not a double agent, just a spy who got caught up in his own power? As Charlize runs into a movie theater playing Tarkovsky’s Stalker to hide from assassins, I lost track of the double-dealings and reveled in the self-conscious coolness.

The director is the Wachowskis’ stunt coordinator and did second-unit stuff on Jurassic World and the Ninja Turtles movies. It’s not the most promising looking resume, but damn. More evidence to check out John Wick, which Leitch codirected.

As many pop songs as Baby Driver, but used for different purposes, slinky mood music to fit the visual tone. The songs are vintage but their performances might not be – that wasn’t Ministry playing Stigmata, and some sounded like updated remixes.

Single-take camera move (always on the move) through a crowded park in Chengdu, China – further into the center of the country than Katy will travel this month (while I watched this, she was some 900 miles east, in Shanghai). There’s dancing and games and crafts and napping and work and food and commercial demonstrations and so much music – I don’t think there’s a moment where you can’t hear live or recorded music playing.

The camera seems to be waist-high (I later learned that Cohen held the camera while Sniadecki pusher her in a wheelchair), and it’s not hidden – people stare back all the time, and most of my interest in the movie (since the park itself isn’t historically/architecturally fascinating) comes from watching the people, and seeing their reactions as they watch back. I wouldn’t say there’s enough people-watching interest to justify its full 75-minute length though, and roaming a park from my couch kept making me wanna get up and go outside. Funny how far removed this felt from last week’s people-watching doc Austerlitz. The ending is good, the camera circling around a crowd watching a dance routine then breaking through into the center, ending on a great image.

Dennis Lim got the press kit:

Over three weeks they shot 23 takes ranging from 45 to 100 minutes, with many more aborted because of mishaps like miscommunication with each other or children running into their path. The final film… uses a 75-minute segment from the 19th try.

F. Furtado:

In a film with such an evident voyeuristic aspect as this, one usually expects to see the shot at eyes height; but, instead, the vantage point in People’s Park is lower, an unexpected perspective which sometimes breaks with the more repetitive patterns of some of its moments and procedures … There is undoubtedly an element of intrusion in these images: people often look straight at the camera suggesting curiosity and, other times, irritation (the film never allows us to forget that the filmmakers are not an element that belong to that landscape; this is literally a foreign look).

Glimpsed through the crowd – man with rooster on a stick:

Vadim:

Bursts into musical numbers via karaoke fiends co-existing with refreshing indifference to each other, mass dances and sing-alongs to Cultural Revolution standards, the state otherwise conspicuous by its absence … Few people stand out in memory, the point being the democratic proliferation of things to watch.

Produced by the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab (Sweetgrass, Leviathan). Codirector Sniadecki made earlier HSEL movie Foreign Parts, and later The Iron Ministry, and both were thanked in the Manakamana credits.

I’d like to steal Vadim Rizov’s opening sentence: “Having barely survived Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams when it came out, I was inclined to stay away from his filmography for the rest of my life.” But how could we stay away from a Michael Keaton-starring, Emmanuel Lubezki-shot movie called Birdman? I’m sympathetic to Rizov’s entire “five points of contention” article for Filmmaker Magazine, praising Edward Norton before wondering, among other things, why the single-take illusion was necessary. But I appreciated the single-take (and the wonderful arrhythmic drum score) as an enjoyable distraction, making the movie fun to watch before the inevitable post-film discussion of what point it was trying to make (??) and whether all its characters are unredeemed assholes (they are).

Heard this three-hour Russian movie fourteen years in the making was something incredible, and oh boy is it ever. Loooong roving black-and-white takes (with beyond-Russian Ark choreography), torrential rainfall, everything bleak and ugly but masterfully shot. Sounds like Bela Tarr, but it doesn’t feel like Bela Tarr. Tarr ultimately focuses on individuals, and this one seems more concerned with lovely filth.

There is a story, or a premise at least, but if you miss the first five minutes you’d be forgiven for never figuring that out. Don Rumata is from present-day Earth, one of a team of scientists sent to “another planet, about 800 years behind,” on which the Rennaisance never happened because dumb thugs murdered all the educated and artistic types. The intro is the last time any of this is mentioned – the rest follows Rumata as he wanders the horrors of this place, through filth and hunger and murder. There are other characters, and a bit of a plot – a Wikipedia summary of the source novel reveals that many of its characters and events were adapted in the film, but weren’t explained. I’m not an avid reader of Russian lit so probably won’t pick up the novel, but I’m excited to see there’s a 1990 film version which may be more comprehensible.

Story aside, this is both a slog of a plotless beast and a technical and tactile marvel. It seems postsynched since we only hear certain sounds among all the chaos, but if so it’s done quite well. Also: a hedgehog and much bird tossing (including owls).

C. Marsh:

Hard to Be a God, by design, is not a dynamic film. Its consistency is intended to be exhausting. Over time, like Rumata, we’d rather be anywhere else. .. German seems less interested in the science-fiction dimension of the source material than in the central idea it poses: the Renaissance was a fluke. Cruelty and brutality are the default modes of existence.

I’m happy that Marsh mentions Monty Python and the Holy Grail in his review, since it was on my mind as well.

Intriguing Russian and German titles mentioned in Olaf Möller’s Cinema Scope article:
Khrustalyov, My Car! (1988)
Workers’ Settlement (1965)
My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982)
Es ist nicht leicht, ein Gott zu sein (1990)
Days of Eclipse (1988)
The Fall of Otrar (1991)
Until the End of the World (1991, the 5-hour version)
The Ugly Swans (2006)
Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979)
Lenin’s Guard (1965)