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"yi yi" (2000) - edward yang
posted on 2-Jul-2002 by anton
taiwanese director edward yang has been making movies for quite a few years, and finally with this picture he breaks through to the western market and gets the attention he really deserves.

the characters of the film is what keeps you involved, they are so heartbreakingly human, with their problems and troubles and the very pace of their lives. you miss them the moment the film is over, and small episodes from their lives keep coming back long after the credits roll.

"yi yi" has this slow, drawn-out pace that leaves particular moments ingrained in my mind by the unmoving, observing camera. somehow it never appears to be self-indulgent, unlike the general slew of "father/mirror" movies. I am not sure when I have acquired the taste for this intentionally slow pace. this pensive style, this observing, delicate cinematography reminded me of my favorite "in the mood for love" by wong kar-wai. even though I keep remembering tarkovsky, "yi yi" is more human, warmer, kinder, more trivial - overall closer and more real. it also reminds me of murakami's characters - quietly sad, fully aware of the pain that is existence and yet enjoying their life through the simplicity of every single day.

there is no usual filmmaking cathartic finale; the narrative is not focused on one aspect of the story and leading up to its culmination. instead, there is a stream of life, events and people come and go, stories intertwine and run on their own. there are coincidences, there are ups and downs, there are emotional moments full of tenderness and beauty. but the camera is simply observing, seemingly indifferent, but some time into the movie, and you see how it picks up - not the dazzling, artsy angles and colors, but those that get you closer to the characters, to their inner world. there was no moralizing end, no dramatic conclusions - some episodes have ended, some barely started, and the film could have continued on and on.

the subtlety is incredibly important in the film. most of the major events are not shown, we see the aftermath, the reaction of others to them, the events slowly become tangible through others' perception - the silent observing ting-ting standing by the corner of the door, looking in; the report on tv; the comments of others. one of the most dramatic conversations is shot in the darkness with barely audible shadows, the camera is often showing the environment - the street, the shadow on the wall, the rest of the world existing quietly on its own while "the action" is nothing else but out of focus shadows and voices. it might sound pretentious, but it works perfectly, this manner is so natural, that nothing really strikes you as artificial.

some moments - little boy and his (so very poetic) mission in life, started with a small camera; the only person that had something of importance to say to his grandmother, an incredibly moving portrayal. he is so quiet, so much in his own world, practically ignored by everyone, strangely bypassed and yet he does not realize that, and continues in his exploration of the world. the small noise he makes, jumping into the pool, the "diving training" exercises, the teasing and his affection for a girl in school. all those tiny little details, these small fragments, barely touched upon, that reveal so much, make you remember all those emotions you yourself once had. his dad, the essence of every murakami character I ever liked - quietly observing, fully realizing the "weight of life". although his face barely registers emotions, through the voice and the pauses and the angles used, it comes across as very emotional, very touching character. the grandmother and her silent "test" that characters have to pass, her miraculous moment with a granddaughter and her plea for forgiveness. ming-ming and her existentialist crisis, intensified by the grandmother's situation. this truly horrifying idea, that she comes to recognize and live with. it is interesting how strangely alien the family seems, but each of the characters is so endearing, so full.

there is no intentional "artistic" appeal, no deliberate oversimplification or intentional stylization; the director is not patronizing the viewer, allowing you to notice all the subtleties yourself, come to your own conclusions. at the end the characters have been through so much in front of you, that you feel so close to them, coming back to their problems and words again and again. this is a very mature, very quiet and subtle film; overall truly an outstanding picture; if I had seen this film earlier, it definitely would have been in my top 10 for 2001.

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