Long Day's Journey Into Night ★★★★

Relevant portion excerpted from my fourth Cannes dispatch:

It would be too much to call Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Bi Gan’s sophomore feature, playing in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, a non-narrative film. But far more than its noir-inflected story—about a killer, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), returning to his hometown of Kaili to look for a woman (Tang Wei) whom he once loved—it is a triumph of pure sensation; there’s not likely to be a more tactile, transportive experience at the festival. As in Kaili Blues, Bi Gan’s arena here is that of time and memory, so the film evokes temporal, and thus spatial transcendence. The disorienting opening shot floats up along dots of light, red, green and blue, to a ceiling that then transforms into a floor. In the fictional world of Dangmai, the air is thick, smokey and humid; amber lights flash along rivulets of water cascading down the frame; darkened tunnels move characters in and out of the past. As in the films of Tsai Ming-liang, even the decrepit, blackened walls themselves seem to weep. Planes and surfaces shimmer and dissolve before your eyes. Always, a sense of unreality permeates, as if one were “trapped in a dream.”

Bi Gan’s inspirations range far and wide: the English title draws from Eugene O’Neill, the original Chinese (Last Evenings on Earth) from Bolaño; Chagall’s paintings and Modiano’s novels are acknowledged referents; a quivering glass of water draws a line to Tarkovsky’s Stalker. But Long Day’s Journey Into Night is less a pilfered melange than a daring fusion. About halfway through the film, Huang’s lonely wanderer heads into a darkened cinema and puts on a pair of glasses, which launches the film into its titular passage: an extended single-take entirely in (post-converted) 3D! (Seeing the title card and its superimposed planes had me practically floating out of my seat.) Luo searches for his long-lost lover, but instead finds a double with whom he wanders the far-flung village, as our sense of time itself seems to ebb away. A broken watch is traded for a firework; apples roll along deserted streets; a ping-pong paddle spins in the moonlight. Suspended between the transient and eternal, Bi Gan's is the kind of vision that fulfills that Lynchian exhortation for a film with “room to dream.” The world spins.