A Time to Live and a Time to Die – 1985 Hsiao-Hsien Hou
This is the earliest Hsiao-Hsien Hou film I’ve seen and it’s an impressive work—it’s most outstanding for the hypnotically beautiful compositions. HHH doesn’t move the camera, doesn’t work in close-up really, we have these (below) elegant bodies in the wide frame, shoji doors, depth of field work
Oddly enough HHH claims to have never seen an Ozu film at the time of making this film. That’s almost impossible to believe- HHH is his own filmmaker, but to say more than a few words about this film without mentioning Ozu would be crazy— static camera, immaculate mise-en-scene arrangements, family drama, shoji doors… I’m sorry but that’s Ozu
#308 on the TSPDT top 1000 at the time I’m reviewing July 2019
Portrait of loss
Very observational—cooking, playing pool—bodies in the frame—we’re in living rooms often like Ozu, the use of bins, stools, chairs, half-open doors and window to great compositions (along with the bodies)—or the alley
Starts and ends with voice over—very autobiographical from HHH – “memories from my youth”—Roma – Personal cinema – a meditation on death, the making of a monster or the ruination of a family/youth (of sorts) because of the political fallout (and death of a father figure)—in an odd way a coming of age story—Catcher in the Rye
Certainly in many ways a neorealist film—naturalistic—not expressionistic – Satyajit Ray (HHH claims to have never seen a movie from Ray at the time either) or Ozu — influenced Jia Zhangke
A great composition of a long conversation with the daughter and mother, sitting on the floor in the house, with the rain pouring in in the background—there are 30 of these – another is the mise-en-scene and framing of the grandmother’s death—again- HHH holds the camera at a distance in composition
A family in free-fall—uprooted by politics and revolution (forced from Chinese mainland to Taiwan), devastated by death—when the father dies we jump forward and the family (notably the boys) are older. It’s a bit disorienting at first (certainly intentional) as there is no indicator on time passage. We have street crimes, cheating in class, fighting in the pool hall and “little thug” in the text
It’s almost as if HHH is telling the story from 17 fixed camera positions (town square, alley, street where they live with tree, several in the house at set positions) and weaving them together in this compositional vignettes
When I had been through Hou’s catalogue this was the film I most wanted to see again. The second was his following film, Dust in the Wind.
I am highly looking forward to seeing the recent remastering of The Puppet Master. Hopefully a home-video release isn’t far off.
@derekbd … i actually watched it twice in back to back nights. I never do that. i was impressed but it takes a minute to get on HHH’s rhythms. Marvelous film. I’m seeing “Dust in the Wind” tonight hopefully. I really regret that I can’t get my hands on either “A City of Sadness” or “Flowers of Shanghai”– I can’t find them anywhere. Luckily “A Time to Live..,” and “Dust in the Wind” are on Amazon prime
Flowers of Shanghai is on the Criterion Channel at the moment.
@Zane- Yes! Finally- I saw this and will be getting to it soon.
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