The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin (Benjamin Crotty)

A bit of anti-historical fun by the guy who made Fort Buchanan. Napoleonic soldier Chauvin is resurrected to collect some award, his acceptance speech turns into a fantasy that gets away from him, leading to some resurrected medieval dude pitchforking Chauvin’s girl, and explaining that the reason Chauvin can’t remember his parents is that he’s a fictional character invented by playwrights.

How Fernando Pessoa Saved Portugal (Eugène Green)

Carloto Cotta (Tabu, Diamantino) plays an office writer hired to create a local slogan for Coca-Cola, asks his would-be poet friend for advice. The slogan succeeds only in alarming the health ministry (led by Oliveira star Diogo Dória) into banning the drink. Also a bit of fun, but not as anarchic as Chauvin, calm and precise like La Sapienza, full of direct-to-camera address.

Erased/Palimpsest: Ascent of the Invisible (Ghassan Halwani)

The goal was to watch this feature, but I turned it off after 20 minuttes, so adding it to the shorts. Logging a movie I didn’t watch is not standard procedure, but I make the rules here. It’s investigating war photos and portraits of the disappeared, memorializing them properly, drawing and animating them to give them new life, exposing missing-person flyers covered up by years of advertising posters. Serious and worthy concept, but the methodical slowness of it was too much for me – a single still image was onscreen for six of the first ten minutes, and I bailed during a montage of news articles on mass graves.

A Room With a Coconut View (Tulapop Saenjaroen)

iMovie title effects and an AI voice speaking Thai giving a hotel tour, doesn’t seem promising. Then an English AI voice starts challenging her on the mechanics of what is seen, until we’re getting scientific explanations of how sea waves are formed. “Oh no, the images are bleeding.” A new English narrator appears as the male English narrator leaves the Thai AI and goes on a voyage… discussion of the nature of tourism… one AI smokes a joint. Great movie.

Gulyabani (Gürcan Keltek)

Placid visual and narrated poetry, hard to adjust to this after the more insane Coconut View. No people are seen, narrator is a girl, molested by her dad, thought to be a prophet by the villagers. “Two actions may look the same, but one may be evil and one may not.” A very serious story involving military coups and child prostitution, but I was tuned out due to the problems of the work week. The director’s feature Meteors had played Locarno the previous year.

Man in the Well (Hu Bo)

Not about a a man in a well… featureless hooded figures wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland looking for food. Very different from the Elephant movie, except in its pacing. They find a dead person and immediately dig in with a saw. I guess they chuck the body down a hole – is that the man in the well? Odd little movie.

A few doomed people in a Chinese megasuburb gradually intersect over a fateful day, captured in fluid long takes, followed and circled by the camera. Each of their lives was ruined this morning, now they’re in a slow simmering funk, deciding whether they should stay and fight, stay and surrender, or leave town for Manzhouli (near Hailar where the Taming The Horse kids wanted to go) to see a depressed elephant.

Schoolboy Bu pushes the school bully down the stairs, fatally. The bully’s older brother (Yu Cheng of Year of the Everlasting Storm and Snipers) was found sleeping with his best friend’s girl, so the friend threw himself out a window. Schoolgirl Ling has been caught in an affair with an administrator. And an older guy (Li Congxi of Devils on the Doorstep) is being kicked out of his kid’s apartment and sent to a home – and his dog got killed.

Movie feels massive, the long takes and stretched-out day usually working to great effect. Sometimes we’re simply killing time, walking from one place to another, looking at the backs of heads and shirt collars, but then there’s a great moment when we realize time has rewound and we’re seeing the opposite angle on a previous scene.

By the end of the day the old guy gives up his escape plan and heads back home, saying things are just as bad everywhere. Red-jacketed boy with a stolen gun stupidly involves himself, and dies. Floppy-hair guy ends up injured and outcast, and the younger two take a train trip to maybe witness a creature even more despondent than themselves.

with the old man’s granddaughter:

Jonathan Romney:

It’s inevitably tempting to read the film as some sort of suicide note, as an expression of a desperation that envisaged no remedy. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find no shortage of evidence in a film built around four deaths (one accidental, one canine, two suicides); in its final moments, a character yells at the people around him (and essentially, at the entire world), “You are all going to hell!” Indeed, everyone here seems already to inhabit an earthly hell; yet the journey that some characters take in its closing stretch suggests some hope, insofar as they’re at least curious enough to go and take a look at an unfamiliar corner of their desolate world.

Romney also ties the elephant to the Werckmeister Harmonies whale and says Hu “was briefly a student of Tarr, traces of whose influence are visible,” and I’m in the middle of reading the Werckmeister source novel so this all tracks.

Celluloid Liberation Front:

But whereas Tarr’s cinema articulates itself through metaphysical absorption, Hu’s films retain the carnality of punk and operate on a lower stratum of perception, like an obsessive bassline from a Joy Division song. Despite his very young age, the craft and style of his opera prima are anything but derivative, and are in fact the outcome of an uncompromising vision.

The level of emotional repression is such that virtually every exchange in the film implies the possibility of an aggressive confrontation, with the film’s livid photography chromatically translating a ubiquitous feeling of resentment.
With human agency reduced to its basest instincts, the only way for the four protagonists to come together is by mere coincidence. Their convergence towards the sitting elephant is inertial rather than proactive, as much of their previous lives must presumably have been. The only moments where life is not stoically endured but actually lived are when the characters plot to or deliberately harm someone, be it a random passerby or a next of kin.

Vadim Rizov:

The film takes place over a single day but doesn’t sweat continuity, veering between morning, afternoon and evening light throughout. Unmoored in time, viewers are stuck in a perpetual morass. The context for this bad mood is not unfamiliar: with its emphasis on chaos and sudden invitations to violence, Elephant recalls Huang Weikei’s Disorder and Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin.