‘Reunion is A Dark Room’: Dream and the Camera Obscura of Kaili Blues

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Speaker: Jiwei Xiao

Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues (2016) is a film about time lost and regained through remembrance and dream. Doubling and transference that occurs in the 41-minute take is underwritten by the logic of the unconscious. Citing Hou Hsiao-hsien, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the film traverses the slippery zone between the past, dream, and reality. The uncanny dream sequence in Kaiili Blues echoes Buddhist ideas of predestination and reincarnation — 'Every encounter is a reunion'. But Bi Gan further extends it through poetry: 'reunion is a dark room'. A cinematized dream, Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues is thus also a dream of cinema. Objects such as trains, caves, fans, and that undulating mosquito net are all analogues of a mechanical apparatus with powers to hypnotize and feed the imagination. If the most notable Chinese films have for three decades prided themselves mainly as cinema of witness, Bi Gan would go in a different direction altogether: his film would function as a 'medium,' in the anthropological sense, to access other realms of consciousness. Jiwei Xiao is associate professor of Chinese at Fairfield University. A PhD in Comparative Literature, Xiao researches modern Chinese literature and contemporary cinema. She has published literary essays on Shen Congwen, Eileen Chang, and Wang Anyi in various journals. Her publications on cinema include: 'China Unraveled: Violence, Sin, and Art in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin' (Film Quarterly 2015), 'A Traveler’s Glance: Antonioni in China' (New Left Review 2013), and 'The Quest for Memory: Documentary and Fiction in Jia Zhangke’s Films' (Senses of Cinema 2011).

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