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The Illusory (and Insanely Innovative) ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’

Bi Gan’s dreamy film features a 55-minute single-take 3D sequence

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“The whole film plays with memories, the magic of memories,” says director Bi Gan about his dreamy, surreal feature Long Day’s Journey Into Night. “This film is simply about a man [Luo Hongwu] setting out to look for a woman.

“But what I wanted to capture were the emotions… 3D images are fake but they resemble our memories much more closely.”

“The audacious second half of the opaque drama is what leaves most viewers awestruck: At the 73 minute mark Hongwu enters a movie theater and puts on his 3D glasses, a cue for the audience to do the same,” explains Jordan Ruimy. “The title of the film is slapped on-screen: Long Day’s Journey Into Night, in bright green neon lights, with a moody electric guitar-led score phasing in the background.

“Is this a dream? Who knows, but what comes next is a single 50-minute take with an atmosphere soaked in surrealism, as Hongwu explores for his lost love and tries to find some kind of conclusion.” To read the full article, click here.

Read more: Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night Floats Along the Back Rivers of Memory

“Once we enter the 3D sequence, the camera goes through a tunnel, observes a fight, flies through the air, follows a song and dance number, and even an impeccably well-timed game of ping pong,” says Rafael Motamayor. “Is the sequence a gimmick? Absolutely, no question about it. But Bi Gan manages to tie it all together in the end through feeling and symbolism in a way that makes it perfectly reasonable to spend half the film on a 3D sequence that may be a dream.” To read the full article, click here.

“After the first part [in 2D], I wanted the film to take on a different texture,” Bi Gan says. “In fact, for me, 3D is simply a texture. Like a mirror that turns our memories into tactile sensations. It’s just a three-dimensional representation of space. But I believe this three-dimensional feeling recalls that of our recollections of the past.”

The film, Bi Gan tells Jordan Cronk, is “about memory and dreams. And I thought that in order for me to somehow express the essence of memories and dreams I needed 3D to realize that. Also, structurally, I knew from the beginning that 3D would be important. In the past you may have seen films that are in two parts, that may be black and white in the first half and then color in the second.

“For me, how I envisioned the film structurally was to have the 2D element comprise the first half, and have 3D for the second,” the director continues. “But the way I’m using 3D isn’t done to capture the audience’s attention—that’s not what I’m trying to represent or express. This film is actually post-converted from 2D to 3D. It’s not like those big-budget films where you’ll have these very lifelike 3D objects around or in front of you. For my film, I merely wanted to use 3D to capture what it’s like to dream, to have these memories conjured up in your dreams.” To read the full interview, click here.

Read more: How the Gravity-Defying 59-Minute 3D Take in Long Day’s Journey Into Night Was Shot

“Once Bi switches to 3D he achieves something quite masterful,” writes Alci Rengifo. Typically when we walk into a 3D movie it tends to be a format reserved for action films or animated features, with the expectation that objects will fly at us or Aquaman’s trident will poke out of the screen. Bi uses the format to enhance the power of his astounding 55-minute long take which follows Luo through a rural area in the darkness of a cold night, wandering through its corners and back alleys. Luo journeys into town in a cable-car and wanders into a low-lit pool hall as some kind of outdoor singing competition takes place outside.

“Cinematographer David Chizallet conjures a pure, hypnotic sense of place and time. Like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the camera becomes a mind’s eye tracking along pathways and rooms.” To read the full article, click here.

“During the long take, the camera floats from a cave, to a motorcycle, and takes off on a drone, all of which Bi wanted to shoot in the dark of night,” reports Chris O’Falt. “That presented massive technical challenges: 3D cameras were much too big and cumbersome, and the smallest mobile digital camera didn’t offer the light sensitivity, depth of field, and richness of color the filmmaker had in mind. After tests, his team settled on shooting on the RED camera in 2D, then converting to 3D in post.

“Experimenting with different gear was only part of the battle,” O’Falt continues. “While it took seven full attempts to get the shot right, preparation was an even bigger battle— months of experimentation leading up to the shoot meant he had to shut down production twice in an attempt to get it right.” To read the full article, click here.

“Credited to three cinematographers—David Chizallet, Yao Hung, and Dong Jinsong—the gorgeous aesthetics are the driving force behind this triumph, alongside, of course, the director himself,” Ruimy explains.

“The greatness of this Long Day’s is not just the bravado single take, it’s also that the result is one of the most beautiful and virtuoso feats in recent cinematic history. Consisting of no digital touch-ups, over a dozen setting changes, loads of extras, unpredictable animals, air travel (that’s right), musical numbers, and even a game of ping-pong, suffice to say, if Bi Gan’s goal was to reinvent the language of film, he might have done achieved that goal, but I’m still dizzily reeling.” To read the full article, click here.

The director, Eric Kohn reports, “spent two months preparing for the long take, working with French cinematographer David Chizallet to develop a rig that could carry their RED camera through multiple environments.

“I like the long take because that’s how I feel about time,” Bi tells Kohn. “I compare it to a bird, locked in a cage. I’m not quite sure why other filmmakers do it, but for me, I want to make it as realistic as possible.”

“In one fantastical section, one of the characters twirls a ping-pong racket in front of the camera, which then lifts off from the ground,” Kohn recounts. “Bi said they had to build a hook onto the rig, so that crane could attach itself to the camera at just the right moment. ‘When the camera was lifted up, I was very scared that it would fall,’ he said. ‘I’d be out of money if it broke.’

“The first two attempts to perform the long take were interrupted by various technical challenges. The filmmaker then successfully performed the shot five times straight, using the fifth take for the final cut.” To read the full article, click here.

“Uninterrupted takes like this one have been done before, even for the length of a film (witness Victoria or Russian Ark),” writes Jordan Mintzer. “But what makes this 50-plus-minute sequence-shot here so special is how it blends depth-defying camerawork (Steadicams, zip-lines and drones are involved), exquisite lighting and production design — all of it captured in 3D! — with a deeply poetic style that recalls both Wong Kar Wai and Andrei Tarkovsky, tracking the main character’s gradual descent into melancholic bliss.” To read the full article, click here.

“Confusion… seems to be a deliberate element of the films’s design, as the first half is highly fragmented and nonlinear, operating more like a reverie than a rational detective story,” says Jayson McNulty. “The film’s second half stands in stark contrast, stylistically, and continually references or reconfigures the first, resulting in a hazy, shadow-soaked landscape of memories and filmic echoes.

“Every element of the production, from the gorgeous lighting to the haunting music, works together to mesmerizing effect.

“I have no idea what any of this is about. All I know for sure, at this moment, is that I can’t wait to see it again.” To read the full article, click here.

“The darkness in Long Day’s Journey Into Night is comforting, seductive and beautiful,” writes Dustin Chang. “You are taken for an intoxicating ride and you don’t want to wake up from this dream. You don’t want to get out of the spell Bi Gan put on us. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an unforgettable moviegoing experience and the most audacious film in years.”

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