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With a reputation even larger than its runtime, Hu Bo’s first and last film is considered a modern marvel.
Hu paints a picture of existential malaise with such a fine-tuned control of mood, imagery and pacing that the end result resembles a marriage of Jia Zhangke and Bela Tarr.
“He told me the other day (that) there’s an elephant in Manzhouli,” the character of Yu Cheng (Yu Zhang) says, referring to the creature that gives the film its name. “It sits there all day long. Perhaps some people keep stabbing it with forks. Or maybe it just enjoys sitting there. I don't know. People gather there, watching it sitting still. They feed the elephant food. But it takes no notice.” The aforementioned elephant is almost inconsequential, as it’s the device that brings four completely different characters together and drives them towards a quest to see the wonder in real life. The real wonder, of course, is the friends we make along the way with the journey seeing an elderly parent, bullied high school student, romantically doomed girl and gangster with a vengeance all forced together.
For some, watching An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) will be a feat of endurance, not just because of its nearly four-hour runtime but for the despair of novelist-turned-filmmaker Bo which is said to have streamed into his work by those who knew him intimately. Director Hu Bo's tragic suicide after completing his first film at the age of 29, renders this bold work as a huge, solitary monument to his unique cinematic vision, not unlike an elephant, sitting still.
Premiering at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, the film won several awards and high-profile admirers. Bo’s mentor, Béla Tarr, was just one of many who praised the feature debut, along with Gus Van Sant, Wang Bing and Ang Lee who noted its scale and scope. An Elephant Sitting Still is truly a unique and special experience for those who dare.
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