Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Summer at Grandpa's (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1984)

This inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro is a total delight.

Hou builds a space in which a world from a child's perspective is at once baffling and sad and exuberantly joyous: it struggles to comprehend a sick parent who cannot leave a bed but rejoices in all-consuming splashing play by the river.

It is a perspective that sees, in one moment, only the minutest of details, and in another, feels lost in a vast world. Food remnants, left by untidy, unheeding adults litter the floor of the train, but that focused, compact space of a set of train seats is suddenly a bewilderingly large expanse when the adults are absent.

Time speeds by in the morning, while turtle races absorb hands and eyes, but seconds tick interminably in the long afternoon, loose limbs lazing on the floor of a hot room.

Family is everything, dictating life's motions and providing the structure, comfort, love, but adults are capricious, mysterious creatures. Why does Grandma weep as she folds the clothes, and why does Grandpa chase away Uncle one moment and give him money the next? One can only stare, wonder, and shrug. That's Grandma. That's Grandpa. And it's nice, anyway, to sit with Grandpa and look at those old pictures while the sound of the phonograph plays its scratchy tunes.

And so, Hou's sense of space and perspective draws me in, and even when the summer comes to a close, and with the children, I am, perhaps, ready to go home, back to the routine of life, I cannot help but feel that sweeping vistas of the green paddy fields, the rush of the train just outside grandpa's window, the place on the landing where everyone's shoes snuggled against one another, have left an imprint on the mind and heart, much like those long magical summers of my own childhood have done for me. I can never go back to the time, but it remains, like a still center at the core of something that is me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

Also reviewed at Seattle Screen Scene.

"I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
 Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet"
              ~John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"

Time shifts and slips, and the past is a thing of soft veils and refracted reflections, three of you, two of me, then none, only the round white face of the clock and the sound of your voice, my voice. I can't reach you there, at the edges of my mind; you slip from view.

But in the now, a sudden scent presses the bright deep color of your dress, the shape of your hip, a white clasp at the dip in your neck, into my vision, filling it. A green dress with bright yellow daffodils, impossibly vivid. Could you have been so beautiful? 

The streets of the teeming city were empty then, only you and I were there, there in the rain, under the bulb, there in the passage on the stairs. Our shadows pass along those walls, where paper notices tatter, fade, and are smoothly absorbed into the place on which they were glued. The rain soaks us, pounds the pavement; water seeps down into the earth, the water stands in clear pools. At once, it disappears, leaving blackness; it reflects, leaving shimmers of light.

I can feel the press in the hallway, packed with furniture, movers. Was it there I first felt the press of your arm? Or in the cab? Your fingers slip out of my grasp, leaving their warm fading print.

I wait for you. You wait for me. Memory, shrouded and alive, floats in red, graceful curtains in the long deserted passage.

I whisper this fleeting, lingering thing into the ancient ruins, where boldly soaring arches and disintegrating figures in stone relief, settle into the earth, growing into the grass and mud.