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Chinese film-maker Hu Bo’s profoundly melancholy drama follows four miscreants over the course of a single day in the country’s industrial north. There is Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), a teenage boy at the mercy of his cruel father at home and bullies at school; his crush, Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen, a studied and simmering performance), whose affair with a teacher has gone viral; Wang Jin (Li Congxi), an elderly man soon to be packed off to a nursing home by his family, who must downsize due to the city’s housing crisis, and Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu), a miserable, adulterous local gangster.
A voiceover opens the film with a parable about an elephant that sits motionless in the city of Manzhouli, closing its eyes to the chaos of its surroundings. Hu seems to suggest that ignorance is a means of survival or, for some, the humiliation of daily life is immobilising.
Hu, a celebrated novelist and student of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr wrote, directed and edited the film, his debut feature. Tragically, the 29 year-old also killed himself shortly after the project was completed. At times, it feels as though we’re watching something we’re not supposed to be seeing, such is the detail of the emotional degradation on show; in this sense, it’s impossible not to read it as something of a nihilistic suicide note. Still, the care with which Hu depicts his characters suggests otherwise. Though he often uses long takes in the style of his mentor Tarr, this doesn’t feel like slow cinema. The camera is mesmerising and frequently in motion, Steadicam trailing and circling the characters closely, with them until the film’s bittersweet end.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: An Elephant Sitting Still review – melancholic and mesmerising | Film