New York 2018

Three Journeys

Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (2018)

The Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Oscars, sprang a few surprises when the fifty-fifth round of nominations were announced on Monday. On the one hand, it’s probably to be expected that Zhang Yimou’s Shadow, “a rather flamboyant but fascinating psychodrama,” according to Shelly Kraicer in Cinema Scope, would lead—with twelve. But among the other nominees for best feature is the melancholic, dreamlike Long Day’s Journey into Night, which also scores a best director nomination for its young director, Bi Gan, as well as nods for best cinematography, original film score, and sound effects.

“Debate will inevitably rage” over the “high-profile titles that received less recognition,” predicts Variety’s Patrick Frater, noting first and foremost that Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White, which premiered in competition in Cannes, has received only one nomination: Zhao Tao is up for best actress. Over the next few days, the New York Film Festival will present Long Day’s Journey, Ash, and a third Chinese-language film, Ying Liang’s A Family Tour. In all three films, decisions made and actions taken in the past weigh heavily on the present.

When Long Day’s Journey premiered in the Un Certain Regard program in Cannes, it wowed critics not so much for its convoluted story tracking a former casino manager’s (Huang Jue) return to Kaili, his hometown in China’s Guizhou province, where he goes chasing after his former lover (Tang Wei), but as a sensory experience. About halfway in, the film switches to 3D for a single take that lasts nearly an hour. “Good luck finding a filmmaker who better exemplifies Godard’s fridge-magnet-ready inspirational quote that ‘it’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to’ than Bi, only twenty-nine years of age and fêted by cinephiles worldwide for his hypnotic 2015 feature-length debut Kaili Blues,” writes Steve Macfarlane at Slant. “Like that film, Long Day’s Journey into Night plays gorgeously as a swirling mood piece, an epic rumination on memory and loss.”

Two outstanding pieces on Bi appeared in print this summer. Writing for Film Comment, Dennis Lim argues that the director is “interested in cinema’s potential to create mental space as well as to convey physical sensation (it’s telling that his list of ten favorite recent movies includes both Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity). His ambitions are further crystallized in Long Day’s Journey into Night, which has a clearly demarcated two-part structure, the first half an achronological mosaic, the second a nocturnal dream.”

Introducing his interview with Bi for Cinema Scope, Blake Williams, director of last year’s 3D sensation, PROTOTYPE, begins with a consideration of directors who transform cinema into a sort of dream state. He notes that Long Day’s Journey “borrows from—even pays homage to—Bi’s fellow Somnambulists: the bifurcated structures of vintage [Apichatpong Weerasethakul]; [Wong Kar-wai’s] languorous rhythms and clocks (still stopped, as they were in Kaili); the decayed, tear-crusted interiors of [Tsai Ming-liang’s] Stray Dogs (2013). It’s also forthcomingly indebted to cinema’s Old Masters: to Tarkovsky’s train beats and gliding glassware, and Hitchcock’s roaming, jade-stained all-timer. In other words, Bi bears his cinephilia quite proudly, and does a commendable job of not simply stopping at the doors of his cinematic ancestors.”

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