Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A One And A Two

Edward Yang
Taiwan, 2000

Of the many thoughts that have been running through my mind since re-watching this last night, the most prominent one is that of reflections. Edward Yang and cinematographer Wei-han Yang use surfaces, mirrors, windows, and reflections so beautifully here. The shot of Min-Min in the office at night is so gorgeous, but so complex that it takes you the whole scene to try to figure out everything you are seeing and how you are able to see all of these things at once. I don't think there has ever been a greater use of reflections. There are other shots like this, too. I remember one outside of a moving car's windows which reflects the buildings in such a fascinating way that you can't even tell which way you are looking at them. A shot outside of the apartment looking in through the window at Ting-Ting, framed perfectly. A shot in N.J.'s Tokyo hotel room that turns to the mirror to film him on the telephone and then slowly turns toward him directly to capture the same shot. Of course these are all technical things.. beautiful things. But I feel like there is a greater meaning to all of these shots.

These reflections in a way reflect what the characters are each going through in their lives. Reflections of thirty years ago, as in the case of N.J. and Sherry. Ting-Ting's reflections of the day her grandmother fell.. wondering if she had been the cause of it. Min-Min's reflections on her life after her realization that it only takes her a minute to tell her mother about her day. About how empty she feels her life is and always has been. Even Yang-Yang's reflections about half-truths and wondering why in life you can never get the full picture, or both sides of something.

The construction of this film is mind-blowing to me. Its length is certainly justified because it allows us to get to know the characters so well. We need this time to understand them.. to see them in different situations, to share their feelings. The way everything is tied together, the way it moves effortlessly from one scene to the next, with the sound often overlapping into the next scene. The pace of this film is so even and so measured. Never rushed, never too slow, but made from that most natural of all tempos: the rhythm of life.

Throughout the film I was reminded of two other directors who were presumably an influence on Yang: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Yasujiro Ozu. Yi Yi especially reminded me of Hsiao-Hsien's A Time To Live And A Time To Die, which also used the structure of family saga to drag out those simple truths of life we are often too busy to notice. Both films also capture the true bittersweet nature of life.. sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Ozu pops up throughout in the form of pillow shots, but also in the general look and feel of Yi Yi. Everything is clean and uncluttered.. down to the music and the understated white font of the credits. There is a simple grace and poetic dignity to everything here and in every character, even in the face of heartbreak and death. Like Ozu's films, Yi Yi is calm, quiet, gently flowing, and steady.. always a tortoise, never a hare.

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