Hu Bo’s ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’, Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’, ‘The Godfather’, and the concept of slow cinema

Posted on December 20, 2018


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One of the highlights at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star, this year, was Hu Bo’s Chinese film, An Elephant Sitting Still. There are many things that are noteworthy about it. One, the director committed suicide soon after finishing his film, reportedly due to conflicts with the producers regarding creative control – Elephant is, thus, both a defiant debut feature as well as a tragic swan song. And two, it runs nearly four hours, which is a cause for much hand-wringing at a film festival. If you watch it, you’re probably missing out on two other films. But then, as a serious movie-goer, you have to watch these things once in a while – it’s the cinephile’s equivalent of Vipassana. And at least, it’s an easier decision than the one I faced at the Berlin Film Festival a couple of years ago, when Lav Diaz’s A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery was screened. It ran some eight hours, which means you lose out on four other films.

What’s remarkable is that these aren’t just long films but also slow films (even when compared to the pace of the average art-house film). In the Q and A session after the screening of the deliberately paced Manoj Bajpai starrer Bhonsle, again at the Mumbai Film Festival, the director Devashish Makhija said one of his biggest concerns was just how long to hold a shot. He said he was constantly worried about what the film needs and how to hold the audience. Directors like Lav Diaz, on the other hand, don’t seem to worry about this at all. In an interview with The Upcoming, Diaz said that cinema needs to be emancipated from the clutches of the market. “That 90-minute, two-hour thing is totally f**ked up. I don’t want to commodify my film. My cinema is not a product like that.”

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