News from the Locarno Festival

Lu bian ye can – Poetry Travelling

“Lu bian ye can” – Gan Bi



Kaili City, the center of minority Miao culture, is located in the verdant subtropical province of Guizhou in southwestern China. Far from the industrial zones, it’s an area rarely seen in indie cinema, and in Lu bian ye can (Kaili Blues), director Bi Gan creates a poetic entry point to his home region, with a mysterious, sometimes mystifying film steeped in Miao culture (Lim Giong’s score relies on traditional Lusheng pipes).

Chen, the film’s protagonist, shares a medical practice with an older woman, who hears that an old lover living in Zhenyuan is on death’s bed. She requests that Chen deliver him some items from their past, as he’s headed that way to search for his young nephew, Weiwei. A selection of Chen’s poetry provides for an enigmatic voiceover, featuring couplets like “Human enzymes are stubborn. The enzymes of the soul are like water lilies.” (It’s director/writer Bi Gan’s own work; his collection Roadside Picnic provides the Chinese title.) Bi Gan’s long-take style begins with circular pans, moves to long tracking shots from moving vehicles, and finds its apex when Chen stops in an otherworldly town named Dangmai, with a tour de force, 40-minute plan-sequènce that commingles his past, present and future (it’s no coincidence the film’s opening quote comes from the Diamond Sutra).

This magic realist show-stopper traverses multiple kilometers, and features no less than four modes of transportation, impossible camera movements, the reappearance of multiple characters, two version of the same Chinese pop song (one live), and all the geographical information you’ll ever need to know about Kaili. Let it not be said that Bi Gan and cinematographer Wang Tianxing took the easy road in their stunning debut. 

Mark Peranson

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