Yi Yi ★★★★½

A repeated shot in Yi Yi is of a corridor adorned with the faces of a few rockstars from yesteryear. Dylan takes the top spot, but below him is the cover of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. While this cover could be considered incidental, or as typical set-dressing for the home of a music lover, I see it as the essence of the film.

For one, the cover is compiled from a selection of band headshots. Variations on a theme, some happy, some wacky, some sad. A snapshot of life. This is also Yi Yi’s mode, divided as it is across a variety of characters who cross a variety of moods. It traces the highs and lows, smiles and tears. The total picture is a similar compilation, one that feels authentic and organic. This feeds into the film’s primary visual theme, which is of reflection. Glass is constantly doubling the cast members, or buildings, or projecting the headlights of passing cars against the lens. And as this happens, the characters contemplate their lives – though never in so pretentious a manner as that might imply. The three active generations of the family will be compared in the diegesis, their pasts and futures replicating one another. NJ will relive his first date with Sherry; Ting-Ting will be on that very first date; Yang-Yang will dream of the day he might be too.

But to return to the album cover, it has a more direct association with the film. That being its upper-middle photograph, featuring the back of George Harrison’s head. More than the centrepiece of the cover, it also replicates the many photographs Yang-Yang takes in the film. Why does he photograph the backs of people’s heads? So they can see what they would otherwise never see. This photographic obsession figures into a wider theme at Yi Yi’s heart, one that makes it a love letter to cinema. The wonder of the kino-eye is that it can reveal what we cannot see, what we cannot feel, or know. Fatty tells Ting-Ting (via his uncle) that after cinema, we live three times longer than before. We can experience so much that would otherwise be unfelt; what it might be to murder someone, but it needn’t be so extreme. It seems perhaps ironic that Yi Yi itself is a film of near universal relevance, but just as we generally know what the backs of our head might look like, it’s another matter to be shown.

And lastly, it’s worth considering the content of that Beatles album. Like most of their early output, it’s almost all about love. Lost or found, good or bad, that’s the central idea. And for Yang, too, that is his final message. That sounds trite, saccharine, even disingenuous, but it is more than an empty platitude. From Tarkovsky to Malick, so many artists of the screen have come to the same conclusion. And it isn’t necessarily a romantic love – it isn’t the love that NJ shares with Sherry. That’s essential, but not absolute. It’s something more, something encompassing. This is an easy message to botch, because it’s one so often stated. It can sound plastic after a while. But I suppose that is Yang’s greatest achievement in Yi Yi; It’s a film that feels true.