“Long Day’s Journey into Night”: Film Review

Enter a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope – a magic lantern of a film that rather than illuminate its surroundings, lights a path right into the self.

“A Long Day’s Journey into Night” is a visually sumptuous account of a man’s interior journey, which soars from 2D to 3D after a scene that might one day become a meme: the hero, after wandering lonely as a cloud, sits back in a red velvet chair, in a fleapit, and dons a pair of dark glasses.

Director Bi Gan has become a darling of film festivals and critics, and this latest film has generated such praise that it has been selected as a New York Times’ Critic’s Pick. The film is an engaging, hypnotic experience, with exquisite production and sound design, for anyone willing to surrender to it.

A loner of a man, Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), returns to his modest hometown after his father’s death. It’s a place of beautiful decrepitude, an artful backdrop. In a Marlowesque voice-over, he speaks of a lost lover, of a dead friend, of dark underworld figures. The narrative skits about, the past becomes present, fragments of time assembled discontinuously in scenes that are seen through filters that are like coloured glass – sometimes deep crimson, other times emerald, always lustrous.

At other times, the images come straight out of a painting – highly saturated, perhaps inspired by Van Gogh, other times Chagall or Hopper. And repeated Wong Kar Wai, Tarkovsky, Lynch, Fellini visual quotes. Water dripping from a ceiling light, a half full glass slowly sliding off a table topIt’s a continuous succession of cinematic allusions, and literary too, according to the director, who cites Modiano and Dante as direct influences. The film’s English language title reprises the title of Eugene O’Neill’s play, without referencing the content, and the same is true of its Chinese language title, Last Evenings on Earth, which is the title of a Roberto Bolaño work. The theme of the ‘borrowed’ persists through the film, until something shifts when the story eases into 3D and Luo Hongwu takes a zipwire ride into the strongest part of the film, and some kind of resolution.

There is much here that is borrowed. The characters are flat, particularly the female characters, too obviously instrumentalised, and the story is slight, though elegant and entrancing. There simply isn’t the depth, or the excitement, of the original films that Long Day’s Journey into Night references. It is Bi Gan’s fluid grasp of cinematic technique that holds the attention here, and his ability to conjure enchantment. This and the promise of more interesting stories in the future, make this film very much worth seeing.

Writer and Director: Bi Gan
Production Designer: Liu Qiang
Directors of Photography:  Yao Hung-I, Dong Jinsong, David Chizallet

Now screening at these cinemas and streaming on Curzon Home Cinema

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