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Review: Kaili Blues – MIFF

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First-time filmmakers seem to either stumble on their feet or find those feet immediately and use them to run away with a superb debut. Such is the case with Bi Gan, a poet-turned-director whose Kaili Blues is a simply staggering first feature.

The plot – in short, an uncle searching for a nephew – is central to the understanding of the film and yet absolutely irrelevant. It’s a tale of repentance and guilt, of soul-searching and memory… all themes explored through the plot, for sure, but it’s the mood and the technical audacity that drive this one home.

Poetic and hypnotic, the power of this film comes from its deceptive simplicity; it washes over you so easily that its depth and the contents themselves can too easily fall by the wayside. The whole film is a sort of daze and watching it in the uncertain hours of the night I wasn’t sure if I didn’t dream it all. But to simply call it a dream would be to discredit the details and quirks – and the effort – of all those involved in putting this together.

No review of this film would be complete without mentioning the 40-odd-minute take, crafted beautifully in such a way that it’s barely noticeable and yet right there staring you in the face the whole time. The camerawork in general is to be commended (by Tianxing Wang, another first-timer) but reaches a whole other level in this sequence. There’s moments of stillness, moments of movement; one notable movement is when the camera takes a “shortcut” through some buildings as the scooter it had previously been following rides around and catches up with the camera a few seconds later.

I don’t think I’ve caught up with it, though. This will definitely need some further processing. Really highly recommended.

Written by Ben Volchok

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August 25th 2016
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