Tedious Days and Nights

A Bukowskian tale of joy and despair, made in China.

The fleet of the 1989 Tienanmen protests ran aground a long time ago, but it appears that a solitary galleon has been stranded somewhere in a depressed town of the Hunan Province. The poet Guan Dangsheng sings for Deng Xiaoping, making of him the hero of freedom. His song is nothing if not an anarchic cry and his battered face reveals the chronicle of thirty years of marginalisation. That short season of hope, the same thirty years ago, seems to constitute the glue for a group of poets that have called themselves “Trash(ist) Poets”. They live in self-abandonment, and the “trash” is not only a linguistic choice but also a physical companion. There are few traces of the celebrated Misty Poets who anticipated the 1989 protests but their objective realism, and Guo Lusheng’s directness, were probably instrumental in the creation of their “performative” style. In fact, a theatrical, histrionic attitude defines their living for poetry, poetry being inherent to their way of living. This is why Guo Zhenming’s choice to film them is the best way to recognise their art, the art of embodying freedom in life, to make of life one big gesture of dépense (Georges Bataille’s expenditure). Guo Zhenming himself studied literature and, in this first feature, his camera is an organic part of the poetic performances, which include both words and gestures.

This organic participation of the camera allows us to have an immersive experience, but also to ask ourselves whether we are also compelled to voyeurism in looking at the lost, the least and the last in society. The main protagonist, the poet Zeng Dekuang – already protagonist of a previous film, Nostalgia, by Shenghua Wang (2019), and the only poet of the group who has a college education – plays an ambiguous role here: he seems to be with them but not (wanting to be) (entirely) like them. This ambiguity becomes a theme of Guo’s film, which in this way is able to make both the director’s and the viewer’s positions explicit and questionable. I felt myself oscillating between the role of observer and that of accomplice. Ambivalent emotions arise in front of the poets’ misogyny, between hated wives and prostitutes, while the film lets emerge the affectionate bond with one woman who becomes an important part of the band of poets. The decrepit places and the harsh living conditions could suggest a state of dejection, but I found myself surprised to discover many moments of pure joy. This is not only due to the constant state of drunkenness of the poets, because this state seems to depend on a thrill that is bigger than alcohol, but simultaneously on a fullness of life that constantly saturates the screen. It is probably the privilege of despair, which completely unmasks the individuals, and obliges the participating camera to compel sincerity.

It is rare to find such energy and sincerity in film, it almost obliges us to be sincere ourselves. This is the reason I experienced Tedious Days and Nights as a hit of life – be it as pathetic as Guan Dangsheng’s adolescent jokes or as gross as He Lu’s pissing in front of the camera. Speaking of He Lu, his Bukowskian charisma, his elegant absence and lunatic dignity, will remain imprinted in my memory as the last waypoint of this filmic journey through the margins of Chinese society.

Be this a town of remote derelicts, it is still here that the poets practice the tang ping (“lying flat”). Is it a natural expression of the absence of alternatives or a deliberate choice as a symbol of revolt against the exploitative working system of hyperproduction? In any way, these tedious days and nights at the margins of society will certainly inspire a large part of the Chinese youth today, one that finds in the tang ping a new form of protest:  Jin Jiang’s Republic – shot in the centre of Beijing and premiered at the Berlinale 2024 – is a demonstration of this “tedious” connection between centre and periphery, present and past.


Tedious Days and Nights | Film | Guo Zhenming | CHN 2023 | 110’ | Berlinale 2024 – Woche der Kritik

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First published: March 04, 2024