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.

Aging poet Ki Joo-bong (the second section of Grass) arranges to meet his grown sons – Kwon Hae-hyo (film director of In Front of Your Face) and Yu Jun-sang (film director of The Day He Arrives). Only one of them is playing a film director in this movie and I’ve forgotten which. The other is going through a divorce which he’s hiding from dad, who wants to tell his estranged family that he feels he doesn’t have much time left.

two brothers:

Meanwhile upstairs, Kim Min-hee and her friend Song Sun-mi (also her friend in The Woman Who Ran) have been through some stuff and are hiding from the world, resting and getting hungrier. Both groups will finally move to a restaurant down the road where the soju keeps flowing, and the dad’s dark prediction will prove correct soon after.

Michael Sicinski:

Hotel by the River marks a turn in the director’s work, away from his preoccupation with male-female relationships and toward questions of family and lineage. Instead of observing ridiculous men embarrassing themselves in thwarted romantic misadventures, here we are seeing the wreckage that bad men leave in their wake.

Pan-asian techno-capitalism noir. Singapore construction slave-worker Wang is looking for his friend Ajit who disappeared after a late-night personal job for the boss, then mustache cop Lok is looking for Wang. This is all observed by various bosses and spies, a hot computer-cafe girl (Guo Yue of Kaili Blues), and a gamer troll. It’s hilarious that the movie’s blurb mentions a “mysterious video game” – it’s just a multiplayer shooter with headset chat.

Computer Girl with Wang:

To quote the people David Hudson quoted, it maybe “privileges style over coherence” and is “a tale buckling at the knees under all that symbolism and with at least one too many loose ends left dangling,” but makes a pretty cool watch on a weekday night. Can’t believe Netflix bought this – they were a different beast in 2018.

A Cop Stressed Out:

Observational slow-cinema doc, but that’s fine since half the subjects are Lithuanian water birds. Tourists chatter about the birds over the ever-present low chuckle of cormorant conversation. Mostly the people are being negative, whining how the birds compete with the locals for fish, then shit acid that kills the ancient pine trees – big deal. While there was handheld swaying in Fausto, this one feels like it was shot with hidden/security cameras, the crew returning a year later to collect and edit the footage. I could’ve done without the last 5 minutes of some dude interrupting nesting season with fireworks.

Cuties… if they want to kill all the trees and fishes, that’s their business:

It’s time once again for Locorazo, a home viewing series of films that played the Locarno Festival five years ago. This one played in the “Filmmakers of the Present” section for first and second features – in this case it’s her first solo feature, the previous two being collaborations with her husband Nicolas Pereda (Fauna), who only assists on this one (plus thanks in the credits to Joshua Bonnetta and Matias Pineiro).

Stories about lingering ghosts and missing shadows, a witch, psychic animals and astronomical events, told at night, often via narrator. “We live in a conscious universe, we just do not realize it.”

Dudes hanging out smoking, usually at night. The subjects of the stories are sometimes seen at an indifferent distance from the camera. A few unique visual moments: a text list of animals that can see better at night, a beach shot with an absurdly low horizon line.

The director in Mubi:

The concept of the search and searching was a central idea in the film and in the Faust myth. Much of the time we learn the characters are searching for a shadow, a man, et cetera. The theme of the search was something important for me to use, but also important to continue without a resolution. Faust, after all, wants nothing more than to unlock the keys to the universe and himself—something that, like Faust, we are far from doing. I’m never looking for a particular thing, but I’m always in the process of searching and exploring. I’m consumed by questions, which through the seeking of answer continually opens up new questions.

Young guy dies pathetically in front of the girl he likes, flees the afterlife, rewinds time and returns to his body, manic and indestructible. The character models keep shifting, the movie throws in 3D and crazy perspectives and photography, light and form and dimension and rationality all fluid. I wasn’t purposely looking for something to show up The Congress, but couldn’t have chosen better. The guy, his girl Myon (whose main characterization is “has got large boobs”) and her sister are swallowed by a whale while escaping the situation caused by our dude’s violent resurrection, and meet an old man who built a city inside.

I haven’t loved Yuasa’s recent features, but he’s in the animator pantheon for this and Walk On Girl. I should try either Kemonozume or Devilman Crybaby.

Some of my memorial screenings are more respectful than others… RIP Julian Sands, who was a better actor than allowed by this movie. The Salem witch hunters got this one right, hoping to hang Sands then burn him over a basket of cats, but he escapes to the present day with Richard E. Grant close behind. No doubt due to the Earth’s rotation, the time travel magic also lands them in Malibu. It’s all very Highlander.

We could’ve just rewatched A Room With a View:

Warlock Sands has to collect leaves from Satan’s book, killing and cursing people along the way. He kills a guy who also got killed in Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 3, and curses his wife Lori “Footloose” Singer to age rapidly via ever-whiter wigs, then drinks the boiled fat of an unbaptized boy to gain flying powers. Grant teams up with Singer and a Mennonite to perform an ancient ritual… just kidding, they chuck a weathervane through his body then smash his hand with a hammer. But Sands escapes to the godless city of Boston and assembles the book using crappy fx, then Lori makes him melt and humanity is saved until the sequel, which I’m in no hurry to watch. David Twohy wrote this and made Timescape before hitting the big time with The Fugitive. Sands returned in part 2, from the director of Hellraiser 3, then Ashley Laurence stars in Warlock 3, along with a new Warlock who was (coincidence, I’m sure) also in a Highlander.

“Lousy choices, that’s your whole story, lousy movies,” someone says to Robin Wright, playing “herself.” This one’s not exactly great, but better than lousy – at least we get interesting topics and some fun animation. Getting around to watching this due to one of those topics – the idea of movie studios scanning actors then using their digital images indefinitely is back in the news.

Harvey Keitel as her agent gets a good monologue during the scan procedure, then Robin takes her money (they never say how much) and goes home with her hard-of-hearing kite-obsessed son Kodi Smit-McPhee. Twenty years later she enters the “animation zone” to attend a contract renegotiation party. The company which has successfully controlled and redefined her image for so long (one of her future sci-fi films is named RRR) stupidly puts Actual Robin in front of a live mic. There’s a revolution, real or imagined, and Robin is stuck in animated form so they freeze her body for future scientists to deal with. This is where Paul Giamatti comes in – he specializes in explaining insane situations to people in movies.