Novelist Hu Bo made his movie debut with the formidable 4-hour fable An Elephant Sitting Still; hence, it’s such a tragedy that his life was curtailed by suicide right after he completed it, reminding one of the likes of Andrzej Munk (Bad Luck, Eroica, Man on the Tracks), Jean Vigo (L’Atalante), RW Fassbinder (too many to recount), Cristian Nemescu (California Dreamin’), etc. whose dizzying potentials were cut short by untimely deaths. An ambitious work, and a bleak, disorienting and visceral viewing experience – further heightened by the interplay between intense close-ups and a steadycam incessantly following the characters on their backs, along with long takes and a blue-washed colour palette – it provided for a study in despair, disillusionment, familial dysfunction, existential crisis, lovelessness, and the juxtaposition of societal decay with loss of personal equilibrium; the last point made for an ironic counterpoint to the metaphoric title referencing a mythic elephant unfazed with the happenings around it. Drenched in fatalism and nihilism, the leisurely paced movie chronicled a really bad day in the lives of four crisscrossing individuals residing in a grungy city in Northern China – a school student (Peng Yuchang) with an unemployed, embittered father, who goes on the run after fatally injuring a bully by accident; a lonesome girl (Wang Yuwen) who’s emotionally distant to her working class mother and has been inappropriately seduced by her school’s well-off administrator; a local mobster (Zhang Yu) plagued with guilt upon witnessing a friend’s suicide with whose wife he was having an affair; and an aged man (Liu Congxi) whose daughter and son-in-law want him to shift to a glum care home to make space for their daughter in their cramped apartment.
Director: Hu Bo
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Urban Drama