I came across a brief write up by one of my acquaintances on Facebook a few days back. “…Asia is the place where cinema is still breathing a fresh whiff of significant cinema – something which current European cinema is visibly lacking!”, it concluded. He listed a bunch of directors from different parts of Asia who are shining with their works today. But what caught my eyes was this line: “Sadly, I couldn’t add Bo Hu’s name.” I asked him if it’s because of the fact Hu Bo is no more. His answer was ‘yes’.
“An elephant sitting still” is the first and the last feature film by Chinese director Hu Bo who killed himself during the final editing procedure of the film, in 2017, at
The film opens up in a morning with a story about an elephant, narrated in a voice of one
Initially, all the long takes and the way the camera follows the characters are a reminder of ‘Elephant’ by Gus Van Sant at first glance. But later on, I realize that they hardly have any similarities. In ‘Elephant’ all those long following shots are, although impartially, preparation of the final climactic violence. In Hu Bo’s film, the violence shows up many times throughout the film, but in a completely different way. All of them occur on-screen; Yet we, as the audience, can’t see them properly. The camera predominantly shows the witnessing characters and their reactions. But speaking of reactions, they, too, have some unusual sense in them; as if they know of it beforehand, as if they are ready for the aftermath. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that there is no way out for them. But is that all? Well, not actually. As the situation becomes too claustrophobic, they
The film may remind you of another one of Bela Tarr’s films: ‘The Turin Horse’. In an iconic scene, Tarr showed the father and the daughter, with all their belongings and their ‘given-up-on-living’ horse, abandoned the farmhouse to go somewhere new and liveable. The camera stood there as they slowly disappeared at the horizon and after sometimes reappeared again as they come back. If I remember correctly,
Hu Bo concludes “An elephant sitting still” in a more ambiguous way, I suppose. The characters may or may not find something different, but Hu Bo’s death is looming over the film in a very uncanny way. In its three hours and fifty minutes of run time, the film carries the pessimism of its director. A pessimism, if not about the human existence itself, then at least about a life in a modern industrial city where the influencing structure is breaking down and changing its meaning rapidly in a destructive w