From the Chicago Reader (September 29, 1995). — J.R.
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Through the Olive Trees
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami
With Hossein Rezai, Tahereh Ladanian, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, Farhad Kheradmand, and Zarifeh Shiva.
At the Toronto film festival earlier this month Canadian filmmaker Clement Vigo recalled the memorable response of Winston Churchill to pressure to cut state arts funding during World War II: “If we cut funding for the arts and culture, then what are we fighting for?” It’s a question I’ve been pondering ever since.
A month earlier, while I was in the middle of looking at close to 100 films as part of the New York film festival’s selection committee, I had the rare privilege of being able to fly for a weekend to still another festival, in Locarno, Switzerland, to serve on a panel devoted to Godard’s Histoire(s) de cinéma. Locarno had two ambitious sidebars this year — one devoted to Godard’s video series, the other to Iranian women filmmakers and the first virtually complete retrospective of work by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami ever held anywhere, including an exhibition of his color photographs of landscapes and two very beautiful paintings.… Read more »
Although I couldn’t bring myself to watch all of Trump’s rally speech in Tulsa last night, I did tune into the Fox channel enough times to catch the gist of most of it. I wanted to solve the mystery about what was attractive enough to the 6200 or so mostly unmasked individuals to risk their lives and those of their friends and families in order to see and hear him rant and strut and thank everybody in person. And I think I came away with a provisional answer. (For those who missed all of it, or even some of it, I’m pasting the transcript of his endless dribble below in bold, all 28 pages of it.)
As usual, his spiel was all about grievance. The fact that he seemed to spend an eternity complaining about the media treatment of his walk down a ramp after his West Point graduation speech and his use of two hands while sipping water during the speech — what seemed like at least 15 minutes (or about four of the 28 pages) seeking to justify his behavior over just a few seconds — only proved that his inferiority complex was still the most discernible aspect of his ego, and clearly an aspect that many or most of his 6200 or so fans shared.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 3, 1993). — J.R.
THE PUPPET MASTER **** (Masterpiece)
Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien
Written by Wu Nien-jen, Chu Tien-wen, and Li Tien-lu
With Li Tien-lu, Lin Chung, Cheng Kuei-chung, Cho Ju-wei, Hung Liu, and Bai Ming-hwa
Let’s start with three central and related facts, the first about Taiwan, the second about Taiwanese cinema, and the third about us. (1) Until six years ago, Taiwan spent this whole century under martial law, and over three previous centuries it suffered from nearly continuous occupation — by the Dutch in the 17th century and the Manchus in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. In 1895 it was ceded to Japan as one of the spoils of the Sino-Japanese war, and it remained a Japanese colony for the next half century, until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. At this point mainland China took control; but four years later, when the communists seized the mainland, the deposed Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, shifted their base to Taiwan — claiming that their rule was only temporary, until they could wrest the mainland back from the communists. But as it turned out they remained in power until 1987, when Taiwan finally became a democracy.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (1990). — J.R.
A remarkable and beautiful 160-minute family saga by the great Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien (A Time to Live and a Time to Die, Dust in the Wind) that begins at the end of Japan’s 51-year colonial rule in Taiwan and ends in 1949, when mainland China becomes communist and Chiang Kai-shek’s government retreats to Taipei. Perceiving these historical upheavals through the varied lives of a single family, Hou again proves himself a master of long takes and complex framing, with a great talent for passionate (though elliptical and distanced) story telling. Given the diverse languages and dialects spoken here (including the language of a deaf-mute, rendered in intertitles), this is largely a meditation on communication itself. It is also one of the few masterworks of the recent contemporary cinema, and a film that deserves a lot more attention than the couple of screenings it’s getting locally; it’s depressing to think that even the best new Asian films usually can’t get distributed in this country (1989). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, June 23, 4:30, and Sunday, June 24, 6:00, 443-3737)
… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 26, 1996). — J.R.
Like its predecessors, the concluding and entirely self-sufficient feature in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s epic trilogy about the history of Taiwan in the 20th century — a landmark in Taiwanese cinema along with Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day — focuses on a specific period and a specific art form. City of Sadness (1989) covers the end of World War II through the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan in 1949 and concentrates on still photography; The Puppet Master (1993) covers the first 36 years (1909-1945) in the life of puppet master Li Tien-lu and showcases his art. This film, whose art form is cinema itself, intercuts material from 1949 to the present. In the present a young film actress preparing to play Chiang Bi-yu — an anti-Japanese guerrilla in 40s China who, along with her husband, was arrested when she returned to Taiwan during the anticommunist “White Terror” of the 50s — is harassed by an anonymous caller who’s stolen her diary and is faxing her pages from it. Images evoked by her diary from her past as a drug-addicted barmaid involved with a gangster alternate with her imaginative projections of the film she’s about to shoot, seen in black and white.… Read more »