Before this year’s Cannes Film Festival began, we took a look ahead to seven of the most anticipated films premiering in the Un Certain Regard program. Topping that list was Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and an early round of raves suggest that the film has surpassed everyone’s high expectations. In the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang calls Journey “a melancholy, noirish dream of a movie played in the key of early Wong Kar-wai, built on the embers of a long-dissolved romance.” And it’s “the most magical piece of cinema I’ve seen in Cannes in many a year.”
The intricate story boils down to the return of Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) to his hometown—Kaili, in southwestern China’s Guizhou province, where Kaili Blues, Bi’s 2015 feature debut, is set—to find the woman he’s loved and never forgotten (Tang Wei). But as Lawrence Garcia emphasizes in the Notebook, plot takes a backseat to the sensorial experience. The “air is thick, smokey and humid; amber lights flash along rivulets of water cascading down the frame; darkened tunnels move characters in and out of the past. As in the films of Tsai Ming-liang, even the decrepit, blackened walls themselves seem to weep.”
About seventy-five minutes in, Luo enters a movie theater and puts on a pair of 3D glasses, a cue for Journey’s viewers to do the same. Only then does the first title card appear, followed by a fifty-plus-minute long take that surpasses by ten minutes the uninterrupted shot at the heart of Kaili Blues. In the Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer marvels at how this sequence “blends depth-defying camerawork (Steadicams, zip-lines and drones are involved), exquisite lighting, and production design—all of it captured in 3D!—with a deeply poetic style that recalls both Wong Kar-wai and Andrei Tarkovsky, tracking the main character’s gradual descent into melancholic bliss.”
For Jordan Ruimy at the Playlist, in an age when “digital fakery can masquerade for the real thing, Bi Gan brings back the possibilities, no, the magic, of cinema.” More from Mónica Delgado (desistfilm), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, A), Fabien Lemerier (Cineuropa), and Lee Marshall (Screen).
Journey is one of the films that Nicolas Rapold, Amy Taubin, Jonathan Romney, and Eric Hynes discuss on a recent episode of the Film Comment Podcast (49’22”). The title, by the way, is not taken from Eugene O’Neill’s play; translated from Chinese, the title’s actually Last Evenings on Earth, likely a reference to Roberto Bolaño’s 1997 collection of stories. One more tidbit to keep in mind: Bi is only twenty-eight years old.
Update, 5/27: Writing for Sight & Sound, James Lattimer finds that Journey has left “most of the rest of the festival in the dust in terms of its ambition, vision and sheer strangeness,” while at the Film Stage, Giovanni Marchini Camia suggests that although Journey “is a far more polished work than Kaili Blues, it also feels a lot more calculated, often sacrificing emotional impact for ostentation.” More from Maggie Lee in Variety.
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