In his arresting final film, Hu Bo follows a string of characters struggling against injustice – and dreaming of escape
Hardly anyone smiles during An Elephant Sitting Still’s four-hour running time – and when they do, every smile is bitter. A burning fuse-wire of injustice and despair runs through this formidable debut feature by Hu Bo, who killed himself aged 29 shortly after completing it in 2017.
Adapting from his own short story, Hu compiles a kind of befogged Chinese Magnolia, following multiple characters in an industrial city, all of whom have fallen foul of someone else’s selfishness. Teenager Yu Cheng (Peng Yuchang) stands up to the school bully on behalf of a mate accused of stealing the latter’s phone; a classmate (Wang Yuwen) is having an affair with the vice-dean; a jaded neighbour is being forced out of his home by his own children; and the bully’s petty thug brother (Zhang Yu) is honour-bound to avenge him.