AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL

AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (DA XIANG XI DI ER ZUO) (director/writer/editor: Hu Bo;cinematographer: Fan Chao; music: Hua Lun; cast: Zhang Yu (Yu Cheng), Peng Yuchang(Wei Bu), Guozhang ZhaoYan (Bu’s father), Wang Yuwen (Huang Lin), Liu Congxi (Wang Jin), Xiang Rong Dong (Dean); Runtime: 230; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dongyan Fu; KimStim; 2018-China-in Mandarin with English subtitles)
Influenced by the Hungarian art-house icon Bela Tarr, this powerful indie blew me away.”Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Chinese filmmaker and novelist Hu Bo took his own life in 2017, at age 29, before completing his debut feature (which others from China’s First Film Festival completed). It has since become a beloved cult film as acclaimed by the critics who viewed it at the Berlin Film Festival. This almost four-hour long drama offers a bleak but profound view on the marginalized (those left behind in China’s modernization for prosperity movement). It follows the fortunes of four people in an unnamed remote run-down industrial town in Northern China. The plot revolves around these four individuals and what happens to them over one eventful day, as their stories connect.The teenager Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang) is abused by his cruel father (Guozhang ZhaoYan) at home and at school by bullies. But he stands up to the school bully on behalf of a classmate accused of stealing the bully’s cell phone. One of Bu’s classmates, Huang Lin (Wang Yuwen), whom he has a crush on, lives in a hateful home setting and is having an affair with the married school vice-dean (Xiang Rong Dong). Also, there’s an elderly neighbor of Bu’s who is being forced to go to a nursing home by his son and daughter-in-law, as the city is in the midst of a housing crisis and the son wants dad’s house so he can move in with his own family. We also become aware that the bully’s miserable, petty criminal, older, violent brother, Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu), is angered over what happened to his younger bully brother and seeks to get revenge on the one who pushed him down the stairs. We note that the four characters live in dilapidated buildings, in streets filled with an over-flow of garbage and in areas where crime is wide-spread. That all the parents are stressed-out, their sex lives are not enjoyable, and the public institutions are corrupt and do not serve them well, Hu loves the long take, and cinematographer Fan Chao obliges. These arty shots capture in full the despair of his characters and the inner rage brewing in them. The characters wonder if they can ever escape the hellish life in their backward small town or if some day things will improve for them.A voiceover opens the film with a parable about an elephant in a zoo, in the outpost city of Manzhouli, who refuses to eat and sits motionless and silent. Hu hints that his feeble protest might be against injustice and that even if limited, the protest can still be a means for some to survive or overcome the unbearable rigors of a troubling daily life. A dispute with Hu’s original producer, the noted Chinese auteur, Wang Xiaoshuai, who insisted on shortening the film against Hu’s wishes, led to the producer’s name taken off the credits and Hu’s parents retaining all rights to the film after his death. Influenced by the Hungarian art-house icon Bela Tarr, this powerful indie blew me away. The gone-too-soon filmmaker, potentially a great talent, shows his deep affection for the marginalized and shoots an amazingly sensitive film that should make us also care about the unfortunates and ponder how society has broken down in modern China, at least for the marginalized.

REVIEWED ON 3/1/2019 GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”

© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ

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