< realist film
I finished watching Yi Yi, a Taiwanese movie from 2000 that is sort of about nothing, in the sense that it follows three generations of a family and those closest to them as they just get on with their lives. The primary narrative device seems to be complication: a surgery does not go as expected, a business deal does not go as expected, a marriage does not go as expected, children grow up under the aegis of structures and people they never planned to, are subjected (or find themselves unable to be subjected) to life's rites. And the film is realist. It is humorous and at times a little overblown but there is no big meta-commentary whose flavor exceeds that of the pretty usual, the moderately hardworking and educated, the moderately unhappy. Besides Yang-Yang, almost no one seems to have a prescience beyond themselves, and his is even limited by the lack of credulity we give to the words of children. This structure of complication saves itself from being repetitive, unduly painful, or banal often through sound, I think, which drips between scenes more than in anything I've ever watched. Voices will be heard over intermezzos of quiet exterior shots, people will be heard down the hall or across the street or on the other end of a phone-line the scene's main occupant is not using. We hear fights from the adjacent window, or discussions from nearby patrons of a restaurant. Everyone is subjected to the chatter or screams or wails of other people around them, far off, not part of their problem, and so every complication is posed against another, adjacent complication or simplicity. So much of the score comes diegetically, a character playing the piano, tuning to the radio, singing poorly for the bar's sleepy audience. It is all real. And no one can catch a break. The realism of the film is in a way its spare claim to absurdity: a vested interest in curating the everyday, which is a series of well-worn places (a particular intersection, a papered party venue, a hotel room) and the many generations that inhabit them in similar and different ways. But even this reserved weirdness, this snap-snapping of the camera, doesn't announce itself too harshly, nor is the movie really too sentimental for its own good (barring certain things Yang-Yang says, and certain mid-life breakdown climaxes). It felt like if Linklater had nothing to prove, didn't constrain himself needlessly, and cared a little less about showing us just how on top of each-other (spatially, chronologically) we all are. For three hours, the relative positions of characters at the beginning or end of the film appear, superficially, pretty unchanged. Ting-Ting is still unsure of the purpose of romance in her life, of how to assert and trust, A-Di is still indebted and kind but weak, NJ and his wife have apparently encountered epiphany but don't know what to make of it, and the grandmother is just as ghostly and forgotten if not cherished after death as before it. Things are different and yet they are the same. Everyone is a little bit older. I appreciate how this movie can portray male friendship (Ota and NJ) and male weakness (Fatty) and cruelty (basically everyone): how it can portray the desires of the young sitting like quiet fish among the rank weeds that are the desires of their parents. This ensnarement is the point, and whether people do or do not listen to the echos of their own life's structure in that of others is an opportunity, it seems, for self-determination to take a stab at existence. I want to know more about what this time meant in Taiwan: an explosion of apparent wealth but no such guarantee for one's children: the death of those people alive during Taiwan's first assertion of independence. The film is about introspection, yes, and contains plenty of it aloud, but it also, to the best ability of any movie I've ever seen, shows the channels by which this introspection's vitriol, or ability to enact change, leaks or diffuses, whereby the image one grasps in the moment, of themselves and their flaws, slips into blur and warmth. The film is cushy and round. People forget why they've come down the elevator, or opened a drawer. Ting-Ting might rent the hotel room and wear the dress, but nothing will come to pass, just as with her father and Sherry, as with A-Di and his wife. Everything pushes against boundaries that are not trespassed: it is no wonder that only the journey from life to death, a sometimes illusory or symbolic passage, can end the film: shut off the ever snapping camera that catches noise off-screen—rolls without knowing why or what for.