Wednesday, April 21, 2010

2000: Yi Yi (Edward Yang)

2000: Yi Yi (Edward Yang) 
The great art of humanism is alive and well.  Of course it is, Abbas Kiarostami is still making movies.  But this year, for once, it's not an Iranian film that I thought was the most humanist but rather this entry from the late Taiwanese director, Edward Yang.  

Yi Yi for me has the depth of character of the great Dreyer and Ozu films but a little less austerity and a little more warmth.  It's nothing flashy at all just committed, engaged cinema that wants us to look at ourselves and come away with a little more understanding.

Yang has a very natural, unobtrusive style that's rigorous without being cold.  He is neither as formal as Takeshi Kitano, Tsai Ming-liang, or Wong Kar-wai nor as demanding as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhangke, or Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  Yi Yi is a wonderfully accessible film with unusual depth, patience, and heart.

Other contenders for 2000:  From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include:  Agnes Varda's Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep, Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, Arnaud Deplechin's Esther Kahn, Terrence Davies' The House of Mirth, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Mysterious Object at Noon, and Hong Sang Soo's The Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors.  At some point I need to revisit Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as I struggled a little the first time I saw them.  But from this year I really like David Gordon Green's George Washington, Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away, and Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester.  I love Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses and Jim McKay's Our Song.  And my closest runner-up is Francois Ozon's Under the Sand.

11/27/16 I watched Chantal Akerman's La Captive.  A terribly dysfunctional relationship is at the core of Akerman's film.  Although she conceives and executes at an extremely high level, the suffocating nature of the film's thematic might make it tough to support and digest.

11/18/19 I rewatched Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love which I haven't seen since its premiere at LACMA.  I had forgotten how remarkably beautiful it is.  Specific mention for Cheung and her dresses, very well the most stunning wardrobe in the history of the medium.  Wong's style is frustrating here but is it a choice he has made to frustrate us with repetition, with grounded beauty, to mirror the lives of the two main characters.  It is a challenging film, one that never provides the buoyancy it suggests it might offer, and one that feels like this very special recipe of Nouvelle Vague mixed with Bertolucci's The Conformist.  

12/24/19 I watched Miguel Gomes' Christmas Inventory.  Interesting to see this early film by a Portuguese filmmaker I greatly admire.  If nothing else, his sense of the relationship between sound and image is already well developed at an early stage in his career.

6/19/20 I watched Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards.  A film with lots of humanism and undercurrents of Iranian political issues that never fully grabbed me.  Although I was impressed by its actors and its symbolism.  

3/14/21 I watched Agnes Varda's The Gleaners and I.  Only the fourth Varda film I have ever seen.  What impresses most is Varda's lightness of touch, her openness to life and the experiences she finds along the way.  Her films have some of the analytical weight of the great Nouvelle Vague works but she also infuses them with as much of the characteristic New Wave playfulness as any of her peers.  Along with Demy, Varda stikes me as perhaps the most humanist of all of the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers.

10/30/21 I watched James Gray's The Yards.  Gray's second film has much to recommend.  But it is so measured that it rarely gets to you and lacks the visceral impact of the films of Coppola that he so clearly admires. 

12/26/22 I watched Jia Zhangke's Platform.  Only the second film I've seen from Zhangke.  So far, I can say that his cinema veers close to Hou Hsiao-hsien in its rigor and slowness.  This one felt particularly pessimistic compared to Still Life and suggested a China of very little exposure, hope or opportunity.


  1. Jeffrey, it's a great choice no doubt, and you frame it beautifully here, but I went in a different direction, with another director, who probably has alienated as many as he's enthralled.

    My Own #1 Film of 2000:

    Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier; Denmark)


    Devils on the Doorstep (Wen; China)
    Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr; Hungary)
    The House of Mirth (Davies; UK)
    In the Mood For Love (Kar-Wei; Hong Kong)
    Wonder Boys (Hansen; USA)
    Human Resourses (Cantet; France)
    Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Lee; Hong Kong)
    O Brother Where Art Thou? (Coens, USA)
    Malena (Tornatore; Italy)
    Requiem from a Dream (Aronovsky)
    Amoros Perros (Innaritu; Mexico)
    Chicken Run (Lord, Park; UK)
    Chuck and Buck (Artega; Spain)
    The Circle (Panahi; Iran)
    Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Ozon; France)
    La Commune (Watkins; UK)
    Billy Elliot (Daldry; UK)
    Yi Yi (Yang; Taiwan)
    Faithless (Ullmann; Sweden)
    Moulin Rouge (Luhrmann; Australia)
    A Time For Drunken Horses (Ghobadi; Iran)
    Platform (Zhangke; China)
    The Virgin Suicides (Coppola; USA)

    I'll admit I was never a big fan of MEMENTO and TRAFFIC is fine, but not great. GLADIATOR is passable, but not much more. There were several masterpieces this year.

  2. I don't see the number of masterpieces that others do for 2000, but I haven't seen nearly as many films as someone like Sam, so my opinion is not the best developed! YI YI is one that I struggle with at times, as I feel like it can be kind of draining. For 2000, it comes down to three major contenders: Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON; Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS; and the Coen Brothers' O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? If forced to rank them I would probably go:

    1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cragon
    2. Almost Famous
    3. O Brother

    But, I am very close to going with Almost Famous... for now, I'll stick with CTHD, which is surprising since I usually don't care much for martial arts-related films.

  3. For me, Soderbergh’s “Traffic” is my choice for the top position, a complex, multi story look at the drug problem. When I see a film like this, I wish Soderbergh would stop wasting his time on Ocean 11 films, though they probably pave the way for him to do his non-commercial films. I also have high praise for “Pollack” with a great performance by Ed Harris. “Almost Famous” is a great look at the rock and roll groupie lifestyle

    Almost Famous
    O Brother, Where Art Thou?
    Small Time Crooks
    Billy Elliot
    Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
    In the Mood for Love
    Best in Show
    Finding Forester
    High Fidelity
    Best in Show
    Wonder Boys

  4. Sam, thanks so much for the very kind words! I look forward to re-visiting your top pick and seeing your #2 pick.

    Thanks, Sam! Always great having you here.

  5. Dave, great to hear from you! I struggled a little with ALMOST FAMOUS and O BROTHER the first time I saw them, but clearly I'm in the minority.

    Thanks, Dave. Always awesome having you here!

  6. John, great to hear from you!

    From your list, I like TRAFFIC, POLLACK, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, HIGH FIDELITY, and WONDER BOYS although all a little less than the ones I mentioned. I still need to see SMALL TIME CROOKS, BILLY ELLIOT, BEST IN SHOW, and CHOCOLAT.

    Thanks, John. Always great having you here!

  7. I saw YI YI for the first time last week and absolutely loved it. Your comparison's of Yang's style to the other top Chinese/Thai directors is spot on -- Yang may not be as complex as some of those you mention, but he still provides a lot of depth in a very human story here and I prefer that over the sometimes impenetrable nature of guys like HHH and Jia (though I assuredly appreciate the films that both of them have made). I, for one, was mesmerized.

  8. Thanks, Troy! Your use of the word "impenetrable" describes the feeling I have at times, too, with some of those works. Great addition here. Thanks so much!

  9. I only saw YI YI once and remember having a tepid, but positive, reaction to it. Something about children figuring prominently as main characters rarely works for me.

    That said, I'm surprised there's no love for MISSION TO MARS here! Actually, I'm not that surprised. But I think it's a remarkable film. H'wood produced some excellent work this year too, with my favorite late Zemeckis CAST AWAY, MOULIN ROUGE, and Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS. I've always found IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE a bit cold or perhaps austere, and very self-conscious. But perhaps I'm due for a reviewing of it.

  10. Hey Andrew, great to hear from you! Good stuff. I like MISSION TO MARS although a little less than the others I mention. And I must admit struggling a little with MOULIN ROUGE, ALMOST FAMOUS, and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE the first time I saw them.

    Always great having you here! Thanks, Andrew.