Elephant Sitting Still, An

Director: Hu Bo
Year Released: 2018
Rating: 3.5

Four downhearted individuals - two teenagers, a grandpa and a two-bit gangster - mull about in an unnamed town in China in a (sometimes disjointed) plot involving various components - a stolen cell phone, an adult-student relationship, adultery (leading to the cuckold committing suicide) and a pool cue - and there's lot of talk about visiting the city of Manzhouli where the title pachyderm lives and refuses to do a whole lot.  This is a bleak, steel-gray view of China and, with a running time of four hours, there are several stretches where the near-sighted camera just tracks its characters as they walk around a world that's actually crumbling around them - the school's going to be taken down, the nursing home looks like a prison, there are thugs everywhere - and despair is the predominant emotion ... and yet, there's a sense of resilience despite the sadness ("The world is just disgusting") and the effect is entrancing; the final shot - playing jianzi in front of a bus' headlights in the dark - is simply wonderful, suggesting there may be hope after all (just gotta stick to it).  One can't discuss this brilliant movie without mentioning the fate of its gifted filmmaker, who committed suicide just as this was about to be released (allegedly over a dispute with producers ... although there could be more to it) - like David Foster Wallace, who also suffered with mental health issues, Hu - also a novelist - was giving advice about fighting through the grim times but couldn't make it himself.  At least he left us with one of the best films of the year ... and the decade.