30 – 31 OCTOBER, 2018, BOZAR, BRUSSELS. In collaboration with Courtisane, curated by Stoffel Debuysere.
‘Kaili Blues’ was written as a poem from the beginning—the structure, the flow—so it was born already from the logic of poetry. I’m not a screenwriter, even though I have stories in my head. Writing them out in a screenplay doesn’t feel natural to me. ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ is different, though. I think of this film as a murderer. It operates under the logic of murder rather than poetry…. I always felt like I was in danger during the production—like I was always about to either destroy the film by making the wrong decision, or destroy myself. I was always at risk. (Bi Gan)
It’s hard to think of another recent debut film that has excited critics and audiences alike with its unique poetic and aesthetic sensibility than Kaili Blues (2015), Bi Gan’s first foray into the wondrous world of feature cinema. Bi, however, did not learn his craft in film schools or hone his skills by working on film sets. His teachers were online movies and pirated DVDs Bi talked his college roommate into buying. “I know none of the formula in text books to solve problems when making a film. I come up with my own solutions. They are basic and raw.” Bi says. He attributes his artistic enlightenment to a copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), a film he only learned to appreciate after forcing himself to watch it piece by piece. In a way, the work of Bi Gan is perhaps one of the closest continuations of Tarkovsky’s approach to cinema as “sculpting in time”, but where Tarkovsky sought to incite a sense of spirituality and metaphysicality, Bi takes a far more playful and jumbled approach. In Kaili Blues, he sets the tone with an excerpt from a Buddhist text that states that “neither the past, the present nor the future mind can be found.” Conceived as a road movie through China’s subtropical Guizhou province that was subsequently, as Bi has indicated, “destroyed from the inside, little by little,” the film unfolds like a daydream in which past, present, and future flow together, reality commingles with imagination, memory segues into hallucination. The excerpts from Bi’s own poems that serve as the film’s rhythmical and tonal filaments accentuate its fundamental poetic logic, indifferent to conventional plot development or narrative cohesion. The search for a wandering, meandering form of cinema is prolonged into noirish territories in his new work, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2018). This time, Bi took his cues from films such as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), before going once again through the process of “destroying” scene after scene, breaking down and reconstructing the film’s initial structure until it settled in its current form, which owes no little to the paintings of Marc Chagall or the novels of Patrick Modiano. The result is a phantasmagorical experience that propels the use of the long take, which was already an important feature in Kaili Blues, but also of 3D stereoscopy – whose effect Bi describes as “a mirror that turns our memories into tactile sensations” – toward enthralling new horizons. On the occasion of its premiere at the Cannes festival a critic called the film “the most magical piece of cinema I’ve seen in many a year.” An impression we can only strongly affirm.