A beautiful dream you wish would never end

DECEMBER 15 ― No matter how good your Internet connection is, and no matter how good your movie hunting/downloading skills might be, one of the biggest disadvantages to being a cinephile based in Malaysia is that it’s really hard to see certain kinds of films here.

People sometimes forget that not all movies are lucky enough to secure distribution, even digital ones.

Some films, no matter how good, are simply destined to only play at film festivals and live in the memory of those who were lucky enough to catch them.

That’s why I’ve always made it a point to try and make the short journey to Singapore every year to catch a few movies at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).

The European festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Locarno are of course way too far and costly, and even the big Asian ones like Pusan and Tokyo are still quite prohibitive once you factor in the cost of flight tickets, accommodation, currency rates and living costs.

While Singapore itself is not cheap once you factor in the currency rate, it’s still worth the journey if you’re creative enough with your planning and cram in as many worthwhile films as you can into the shortest period of time that your budget can allow.

The fact that the SGIFF is a bit like the Toronto International Film Festival, in that it cherry picks films from festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Locarno is quite simply a gift for cinephiles like yours truly.

Having closely perused the festival schedule and carefully considered which films I really wanted to see and which ones I’m willing to sacrifice like Border, Eerie and Season Of The Devil (in the hope that they’d get a home video release somewhere later on), I finally settled on watching four films in the space of three days; a Thai film called Manta Ray, Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest film Asako I & II, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas’ latest film Our Time and the year’s most feted cinematic object by a lot of cinephiles the world over, Chinese director Bi Gan’s second film Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Of the four, Asako I & II is clearly the nearest one to being a conventional film, and hands down the funniest and most entertaining of the lot, since it’s an adaptation of a novel, and reportedly a pretty respectful one too.

So it’s pretty safe to say that it will get distribution at some point, as will Carlos Reygadas’ latest one because he’s, well, Carlos Reygadas.

I’m really thankful that I took the chance on Manta Ray, which won the Horizons section at this year’s Venice, because unless the same distributors that took interest in films by fellow Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong and the early films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul also takes interest in this one, I don’t think I’ll get to see an English subtitled version of this beautifully abstract film, an obvious allegory about the plight of the Rohingyas in Thailand, ever again.

But most of all, I’m really thankful that I decided to catch Bi Gan’s latest cinematic wonder, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, on the big screen, despite being pretty sure that it will make it to Blu-ray and DVD (with English subtitles) later on sometime next year, mainly because his highly lauded debut Kaili Blues did just that with a Blu-ray and DVD release by Grasshopper Films in the USA.

That decision was of course helped by the fact that ever since its premiere in Cannes earlier this year, people who caught it there have been buzzing about it having a 3D section, and that it’s an almost hour-long long take/sequence shot. So naturally I had to find out what that would look and feel like.

Sure enough, that long take 3D scene alone is worth the price of admission, as it’s very clearly one of the most audacious cinematic feats in the last few years, despite the fact that long take films have been done quite a few times before already like Victoria, La Casa Muda and Russian Ark.

What makes this one really stand out for me is that, for once, the style is also the substance, because it’s a movie about memories and dreams, and it’s more or less literally about a guy who falls asleep in a movie theatre and the stuff that he dreams about in that dream.

Antonin Artaud once said, “If the cinema isn’t made to express dreams or everything that in waking life has something in common with dreams, then it has no point.”

If ever a film is made to illustrate this point, then this one would be it. It does have a story, a pretty simple one about a guy named Luo returning to his hometown for his father’s funeral, where he recalls the death of an old friend called Wildcat, a woman he once loved named Wan Qiwen, and her gangster boyfriend who killed Wildcat.

It gets quite convoluted as the director Bi then begins to make it hard for us to tell whether the events we’re witnessing are occurring now, or are merely memories.

That it’s all shot with the kind of detailed art direction (there are objects everywhere ― a broken clock, an old photo with a phone number at the back, a green book containing a spell that can make a house spin) and woozy nostalgia that will surely remind you of Wong Kar Wai will make the first part of the film an intoxicatingly romantic blur, already feeling like a beautiful dream.

Imagine the rapture when the 3D section arrives and it IS actually a dream, and all the things and objects from the earlier part get called back and take on new or deeper meanings, and by the end of the film’s 135-minute runtime you, like Luo, will find yourself not wanting the dream to end, or at least dreading the moment when the long journey of that night inevitably turns into day.

I can’t even recall the last time I felt like this whilst watching a movie. All the hyperbolic words that people have used to describe this film ― ravishing, rapturous, intoxicating, astonishing, oneiric, dreamlike, somnambulist, beautiful, reverie ― are all true, and maybe not even enough to describe the effect that this supremely special film has on its viewer.

Like a perfect synthesis of the best moments of Wong Kar Wai, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Andrei Tarkovsky, Hou Hsiao Hsien and Tsai Ming Liang, this is a film that I will not soon forget. In fact, it still haunts my days and dreams.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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