A Borrowed Life ★★★★

The very first shot — the non-protagonist/on-screen identifying point's father carefully polishing his shoe with a brush, sitting on the porch, out of focus in memory's recollected glow — seems to anticipate a softer, very different film than what we get. The old man's a bit of a bastard, it turns out: not out of overweening malice (he stands up for his crippled brother, demonstrating an inherent righteous streak) but because he's simply not cut out to be a dad in a society where the alternative's unthinkable.

Looks roughly like what you'd expect from a Taiwanese new wave movie — static master shots and slow pushes in — but Wu Nien-Jin definitely has his own thing going on. (This is an underknown classic that deserves canonization, Criterion, etc.) "Don't forget me," the cousin tells the narrator as a young boy, and the film marches on (it's 159 minutes). Hours later, the narrator realizes that years have gone by and he's forgotten for decades both his uncle and his admonition. Begins as a story about memory and childhood recollected, but it's much more; the last hour brings us up through the '80s and '90s, as the old man's smoking, drinking and diabetes catch up with him. The last segment (at least half an hour) invites us to watch a human being deteriorate realistically, including an agonizing scene with the old man panting hard for each breath. "If I could trade places with him, I would" his agonized wife says; even though dad was a piece of shit, it's hard to watch someone get their physical just desserts. Memory speaks, then continues up to the present; it's all rather amazing.

Report this review