Yi Yi ★★★★★

Trying to indicate the scale of a movie so immense and full of life that it can’t possibly be described (only experienced), the British critic Nigel Andrews wrote that calling “‘Yi Yi’ a three-hour Taiwanese family drama is like calling ‘Citizen Kane’ a film about a newspaper.” It’s a clever line, but those who haven’t seen Edward Yang’s final masterpiece could easily mistake it for a cop-out. At a passing glance, it seems like the kind of thing someone in Andrews’ position might say when they’re too awed to do their job well. And yet, to watch “Yi Yi” is to know where the critic was coming from, and to recognize that he wasn’t surrendering to a great work of art so much as he was summarizing its power. “Yi Yi” isn’t hard to put into words because it’s one of the best movies ever made, it’s one of the best movies ever made because it’s hard to put into words.

A tender and lilting domestic epic that premiered at Cannes in 2000, and felt like a kind of cinematic requiem even before Yang died of colon cancer in 2007 (a few months shy of the great Taiwanese auteur’s 60th birthday), “Yi Yi” is a film about so many different things (the inescapability of regret, the architecture of modernity, the way that old loves turn into the most beautiful music) that it feels shortsighted to say that it’s a film about any of them. The older we get, however, the easier it becomes to appreciate Yang’s swan song as a bittersweet acknowledgement of the very shortsightedness that it can inspire.

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