Ghosts and fractured memories roam freely in this sprawling, two-part saga that tugs on the strings of time itself. We follow Hongwu Luo, a quiet, unassuming man who is looking for a lost lover and a lost friend. Puzzles pile upon puzzles in this cryptic narrative, one that occasionally approaches the line of the surreal but never crosses it thanks to the consistently assured direction by Bi Gan. The complexity/ambiguity of the narrative is compounded by an intentional sense of confusion surrounding Luo’s situation: unreliable memories haunt him and soon the line between dream, nightmare or memory begin to vanish. These scenes are convincingly presented as conventional flashbacks: one of many methods in which writer/director Bi Gan intentionally affects his story via its visual presentation.
While Luo is looking for his lost lover, early he sees a woman who he swears he knows, but she isn’t the woman he is looking for. Not long after we see intimate memories of Luo with this same woman who seems to be a reflection of his lost lover; the subtle yet effective use of mirrors makes this clear. The woman of his dreams, both literally and figuratively, is connected with the criminal underworld, yet this doesn’t stop him. He still wants her in his dreams, which have now taken on the quality of fantasy.
At times it is easy to feel that a few extra details regarding Luo’s journey may be of benefit. However, Bi Gan is obviously more concerned with presentation that narrative, as the way the film is presented visually suggests the ambiguity and lack of concrete detail is a calculated, intentional choice. His obvious fascination with camera placement and technique occasionally flows seamlessly into the story itself.
Subsequently, Long Day is shot in an incredibly deliberate manner, each movement of the camera eye-catching, while each time it is static, it seems to be perfectly placed, evoking memories of Tarkovsky and those who followed as it presents images that one could frame. Gan has meticulously constructed a visually entrancing and intoxicating film. As well as the camerawork, many scenes are also constructed to relate to the story at hand, albeit in a rather cryptic fashion. The most pertinent examples of this is the aforementioned use of mirrors, as well as the camera’s occasional but deliberate obstruction of characters or action. The latter aligns well with the editing style: many scenes end before an expected climax, such as a gunshot, or a kiss. It also echoes much of Luo’s search that is filled with roadblocks and obstructions that may or may not be of his own doing. The sumptuous visuals cannot be stressed enough considering its intent to directly connect to the story being told.
It is unsurprising then that the film opens with a colourful, hypnotic scene as Luo talks about lucid dreams: a dream where one is aware that they are in fact in a dream and can therefore control their actions within it. This short scene is followed by a few more credits, after which we are transported into the confusing world of Luo and his possibly aimless journey. Some of the recurring motifs tell a small story, though these only ever reveal small connections, unless you are a very astute viewer with a notebook. The motifs then offer little help to deconstruct the narrative.
Considering Luo’s words in the opening scene however, he could easily be in a dream that he is in control of, hence his determination to find a woman who is probably dead and his utter confusion as to what exactly his end goal is. Or is he simply a lost man who doesn’t know the destination of his own journey, nor the important reasons for it, which would certainly explain the lack of detail offered to the viewer.
Given the small scale of his first film, Gan’s second feature is massive: the list of credits show just how many people were working on set. Moreover, the scale and ambition of only his second film is not only gutsy, it is successful, despite the few fragments of logic that are to be found. Long Day’s Journey Into Night also succeeds in hiding the fact that not only is this is a sophomore effort, the director is only 30 years of age!
Oh, did I mention there is a near hour-long single take that makes up the entire second part of the film? No? The unbroken shot, much like 1917, is never over-stylised or distracting (I am looking directly at you, Birdman), and consequently its presentation draws the viewer into Luo’s journey as if we are an invisible, ever-silent character watching his confused journey in real-time.
The second part of the film is simultaneously different and the same as the first. The near-hour long single take looks nothing like the first part, but both are amazing to look at. Luo is still looking for someone, and in this unbroken shot he meets two women who appeared in the first part of the film, except they are now different people entirely: an almost Lynchian construct. Not only that, this ambitious production manages to land on two feet: with both a satisfying conclusion and a desire to watch the 120-plus minute film again, immediately. Exuding a unique mood thanks to both the screenplay and the camerawork, Long Day’s Journey is a near-miracle as the young director successfully pulls together a film that could easily have been an utter mess. A promising future certainly awaits Gan and it is hard to deny that he deserves it.
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