Saturday, September 10, 2005

Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien)


Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien) 77 – Not only is Hou Hsiao-hsien one of the directors who seems to best grasp how we live (and love) today, but he also has a pretty good idea about how we got here. The triptych of trysts, each featuring the same lead actors in different roles, outlined in Three Times are presented in tales entitled “A Time for Love”, “A Time for Freedom” and “A Time For Youth”. Like a Kieslowski trilogy rolled up into one movie, Three Times examines each of those themes in a way that politicizes the romances that we’re watching. The coy, mannered posing that we see in the 1960s-set “Love” seems perfectly natural, for example, until we have 2005 to compare it to. “Youth”, set in 2005, is a depressive tale (think Millennium Mambo without the benefit of the narrator’s hindsight), in which characters that have grown up with complete freedom to love and as a result love without pity or consequence.

To categorize modern love like this is certainly a broad statement (though no more broad than the statements made in the film’s other two time frames), but doing so thematically ties the three stories together and suggests we’ve grown detached from our own sense of history. As a result, the film almost feels reactionary, suggesting in some way that Taiwan’s freedom (which we hear about in the middle story, set on the eve of the country’s 1911 liberation from Japanese forces) has run amok, resulting in today’s societal malaise.

In any case, these three stories find Hou in a particularly sensuous mode, halfway between his mid-career master shot style and the more sensual groove of Millennium Mambo. The first third, in particular, is so stylistically charged that it will doubtlessly prompt comparisons to Wong Kar Wai’s work (I got a Scorsese vibe too), although it’s parallax compositions are distinctly the director’s own. The middle story, which sees Hou revisiting Flowers of Shanghai territory in a quasi-silent film (the score sometimes falls in sync with the action, but words are never spoken) suffers, primarily because it reveals just how intrinsic sound design is to Hou’s directorial vision. The final third, as I noted before feels almost like a quasi-sequel to Mambo though without that film’s liberating moments (even the motorcycle ride – a staple in Hou’s work – is here a gateway to anxiety). It’s tough to do justice to a film like this in this setting. I look forward to writing a more extensive review…

3 comments:

Chris Nolan.ca said...

I had a ticket to this right now but unfourtunately it would end just a bit too late for me to make my next session so I skipped it unfourtunately.

phyrephox said...

Can't wait for this at NYFF. I wish Hou was there though, he didn't come to Cafe Lumiere last year either...

Jeremy Heilman said...

Hou was a no show here too... I guess if you go to Cannes, anything else is a step down...