What’s on TV Monday: ‘An Elephant Sitting Still’ on Criterion and a PBS Documentary


AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (2019) Stream on The Criterion Channel. Hu Bo’s first and only feature film follows four characters over the course of a single day in a grimly industrial city in Northern China. For almost four hours their lonely, depressing lives are slowly woven together against the backdrop of a stifling society and an indifferent world and. After one character, Wei Bu (Peng Yuchang), a student at a mediocre school, sees his attempt to stand up to a bully backfire, he flees the bully’s brother, Yu Cheng (Zhang Yu). He is joined by Huang Ling (Wang Yuwen), a classmate embroiled in an affair with a school official, and Wang Jin (Liu Congxi), a man estranged from his family. “Unsparing as Hu’s anatomy of moral drift may be, there is something graceful in his sympathetic attention to lives defined almost entirely by disappointment and diminished hope,” A.O. Scott wrote in his review for The Times.

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (2019) Stream on Kanopy. Rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and YouTube. The basic premise of Bi Gan’s second feature film is fairly straightforward: Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returns to the hometown that he once fled, Kaili, in China’s Guizhou province, for his father’s funeral. He is haunted by the memory of a woman (Tang Wei) and tries to find her again. But the director, as he also did in his directorial debut “Kaili Blues,” refracts the simple story again and again until what’s left is a collection of beautiful and enigmatic images propelled by a logic the viewer can sense but never quite grasp. In his review for The Times, Glenn Kenny wrote: “This cinematic journey is all about subterranean associations.”

BOOKSMART Stream on Hulu. Rent on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever play high school seniors who realize their focus on the future has robbed them of important teenage experiences. They decide that a night of debauchery before graduation will set things right but finding a suitably raucous party proves difficult. The real challenges arise, however, when they arrive at their destination and find that their fantasies — about the party but also about their friendship — don’t match reality.

AMERICAN MASTERS — N. SCOTT MOMADAY: WORDS FROM A BEAR 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). The season finale of this documentary series celebrates Momaday for his writing and his role in helping to bring mainstream attention to Native American literature. A member of the Kiowa tribe, Momaday was born in Oklahoma but grew up on reservations throughout New Mexico. His first novel, “House Made of Dawn,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. The documentary includes interviews with the actors Robert Redford and James Earl Jones; Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States; and Richard West, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s founding director.



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