An Elephant Sitting Still
Daxiang xi di er zuo
Gateway | Gateway
This epic, heartrendingly sad, exhilaratingly beautiful first (and sadly, last) film by brilliant young Chinese director Hu Bo heralded a filmmaker of so much promise, until Hu committed suicide at the age of 29 while fighting to finish it.
Four main characters are each trapped in a grey northern Chinese town in circumstances that threaten to crush them. Young charismatic hoodlum Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu) is caught in bed with his best friend’s wife, precipitating a shocking suicide. Pensioner Wang Jin (Liu Congxi) is being driven out of his apartment by his astonishingly greedy children. High-school student Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang) broods over violence and accidentally causes the death of a school bully who has been threatening him. And Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen), Wei’s female classmate, is trapped in a desultory sexual affair with her vice principal. Alienated though far from beaten down, these lonely souls unite around a kind of visionary myth of a circus elephant in distant "Manzhouli" to which they are all ineluctably drawn.
Hu’s 230 minute-long masterwork evokes Balzac, Kieślowski and Tarr. Each precisely constructed shot vibrates with a unique power, building up a visual tension that rockets the film through its extraordinary running time and leaves a burning impression of lives, reaching out from ruins, seeking glimmers of hope and beauty.
— Shelly Kraicer
FIPRESCI Prize, Forum, Berlin 18