Yi Yi ★★★★★

Edward Yang's original intention with this film upon conceptualizing the idea for it was to make a work which traced a persons life from birth to death. Quite an ambitious prospect! Yet the film as is can be described as exactly that - the film opens with a wedding and ends with a funeral. What Yang does is make a very narrative film, probably his most accessible, but this is for the purpose of breaking down the stages of life into specific characters at specific times in their lives. Rather than necessarily making these ideas accessible (though the film does, which is not a problem) it also allows one stage of life to cross paths with another, and maybe this allows a greater understanding of livings unspecific singularity. And by giving this narrative a very accessible structure, Yang succeeds also at giving these ideas a structural finality & certainty. In this sense, it is maybe a more successful 'narrative' work than A Brighter Summer Day. Ting Ting finds first love, NJ relives first love.

Compositions veer from almost Chaplinesque simplicity to having entire sequences play-out on reflections either in mirrors or (more strikingly) in windowpanes, each windowpane incorporating a flurry of ideas from the other objects which would not be within the frame naturally. These windowpane compositions are often the most stunning and expressive in the entire film, but its the interplay between these reflective surfaces and such direct representation which allow us not to get *too* comfortable watching this without veering off into complete abstraction.

Politics are here as with almost every Yang, the same rage at consumerism which has been evident since Taipei Story, but it's maybe at it's most oblique here without wiping it completely a la BSD. It's not oblique really, rather it's subtly woven into NJ's story...this and his gradual relationship with Mr. Ota only takes up a fraction of the film however, (perhaps because Yang had done it before, and better) and what's left becomes little more than a tension with urban spaces (again more skillfully and subtly done than previous entries) before fully manifesting in Min-Min's character as a flat-out existential despair. But this is evident from the opening moments of the film, where NJ accidentally frames a wedding portrait of Ah-Di and his wife upside down, a simple yet brilliant portent of ominous mis-en-scene.

But still, this is a real film about adulthood, and within NJ & Min-Min's storylines we see a natural progression from Brighter Summer Day & Mahjong - adolescence, early adulthood, & middle age. If only Yang got to make his old man film! And Yang is to be commended for choosing to avoid generational conflict and moreover depict the circularity of it (this is illustrated perfectly in the crosscutting between NJ and his old love reminiscing on the things they did while they were young with Ting-Ting's first date) In this regard, it's Yang's least Nick Ray film! But it is also a sign of genuine maturity from anyone - nothing makes ones youth more exceptional than another age, as everyone goes through youth, and everyone reaches that age. There are glimpses of life within each character - Ting Ting is discovering what it is like to have feelings for another person, for little Yang-Yang the mere act of discovery is enough. But this viewing it was the relationship between NJ and Sherry which moved me the most. It's not that Yang is a stunted adolescent, rather he is brave enough to admit that as we get older, old feelings do not go away. The more time NJ and Sherry spend together the more they pick up bits and pieces of where they had left off thirty years ago. It's not that these people cannot grow up, it's that the world we live in is designed to refuse us adulthood.

Yet perhaps what matters most and remains the most affecting aspect of this film is Yang's empathetic gaze, a far cry from the fury of Mahjong, interrogation of The Terrorizers or the despair of Brighter Summer Day. Maybe it is this which has come to define this masterly work and make it the most accessible of his films. The ease which one can watch it contradicts (but favourably so!) the density of its ideas. One starts a little to write on this film, and only then do they realize the vast scope of how much it covers. But the film is a story and also not a story, and what shocked most this viewing was not this aformention empathetic gaze, but how deeply these middle aged characters were filled with longing and regret.

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