Before his untimely passing, Bo Hu the novelist tried his hand at film and although he didn’t manage to see it’s completion, what he did accomplish is to give the people a unique piece that spans a day, from start to end, that thoughtfully simmers throughout. The term feature-length has new meaning when a film spans almost four hours – though the viewer can be thankful they’re not trapped in a submarine but instead with a group of individuals looking to escape their ‘messy lives.’
The desired destination for these four individuals is Manzhouli – a town where it’s said that an elephant is sitting still and simply ignoring the world. Though as the story continues, it’s clear that it’s more about whether they’re able to outrun their problems that inhabit this tiny and, at times, suffocating city or not – the elephant is simply symbolic of the allure associated with escape.
In an acid washed landscape the camera tracks closely beside the characters, only inches away from their faces, inviting the viewer into the intimacy between the character and their surroundings. Given Hu’s beginnings as a novelist, it’s clear that he felt that the characters and the viewer must have a bond, similarly to how a reader would with those individuals on each turning page. This approach should always be awarded, especially when cinema is so obese with characters that have the same depth of a puddle – the downfall being that viewers wish to drown themselves in an experience rather than dampen their feet in an annoyance.
Such a bond is difficult to create especially with characters that have no admirable qualities about them, no real life in them and without the minerals to face what seems to be in their way. Though for that very reason this four-hour piece is a necessary watch for viewers to gain insight into such a perspective that isn’t portrayed enough in cinema – the reason for this, is simply for its difficulty in being classed as entertainment.
With that in mind, it would’ve been worth keeping the final cut to as long as two hours, leaving the necessary empty spaces for the viewer to ruminate rather than the four hours which results in feeling uncomfortably trapped until it all fades to black.
The talented cast such as Yu Zhang, Yuchang Peng and Uvin Wang was able to keep the same note sustained throughout, which kept these lifeless characters with some meat to them – enough to chew but not too much to gorge.
An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) is a meditative coma the viewer isn’t able to wake from until several hours past the film’s end. Hu’s provided the public a piece worth viewing as long as they’re not prone to let their mind wander.
Dir: Bo Hu
Prd: Dongyan Fu
Scr: Bo Hu
Starring: Yu Zhang, Yuchang Peng, Uvin Wang etc
DOP: Chao Fan
Music: Hua Lun
Runtime: 230 mins
An Elephant Sitting Still will be available in selected cinemas around the UK on 14th December 2018.