One of the most ambitious feature debuts in recent cinema, Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still is a daunting challenge for any viewer: not only does this nearly four-hour cri de coeur plunge audiences into the spiritual desolation of China’s industrial North, it also carries with it the tragic backstory of its director’s suicide at the age of twenty-nine. And yet, since its emergence at last year’s Berlinale, Hu’s passion project has become a source of inspiration, hailed as a testament to the vitality of personal cinema and winning acclaim from auteurs such as Ang Lee, Gus Van Sant, and Béla Tarr. Today An Elephant Sitting Still makes its streaming premiere on the Criterion Channel, and programmer Aliza Ma, who brought the movie to New York’s Metrograph Theater, offers some invaluable context on the rebellious era of Chinese filmmaking that gave rise to it and the sociopolitical turbulence that serves as the story’s backdrop. Check out the above excerpt from Ma’s introduction, in which she maps out the film’s intricately layered tale of four dispossessed souls who come together on a pilgrimage to Manchuria. Then head to the Channel to watch the whole film, programmed alongside Hu’s 2017 short Man in the Well.
Alex Ross Perry Pays a Visit to Great American Iconoclast Paul Schrader
On the set of his latest film, First Reformed, writer-director Paul Schrader reflects on the art of cinema and his uncompromising explorations of sin, guilt, and faith.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Most Unusual Experiment
In the latest episode of Observations on Film Art, scholar David Bordwell examines the deeply strange horror film Vampyr, which uses popular material as a springboard for innovations in mood and technique.