02 December 2008

3 Times

This is definitely an expert level foreign film. It's for the hardcore. This is not to say it isn't a good movie, it's rather that, well, it's not for everyone. Which isn't to say that it's not a good movie. I think it probably is. But it's not easy. The pace is glacial, and it's ungodly subtle. The pay-off is there, but it's not earth-shatteringly spectacular. Watching the film isn't a transcendental experience, but nonetheless, as you reflect on it later, you find yourself appreciating it more and more.

3 Times, directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou, consists of 3 love stories, set in three different times, with the same actors playing in each. The first story, A Time for Love, takes place in 1966, the second, A Time for Freedom, in 1911, the third, A Time for Youth, in 2005. An interesting premise, and despite my occasional mild annoyance and what seemed like slightly cliche/predictable choices, quite well executed. 

What's absolutely amazing about the film is the narrative mode. The stories are told very, very gradually - each segment is 45 minutes, and for at least 20 of that, you're not entirely sure what's going on. As it progresses, your initial assumptions are refuted, and you gain an increasingly complex perspective on the characters, despite never learning much about them. It's amazing how much of the movie is told through facial expression and body language. For a person used to exposition that has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it's hard, hard work. And not always rewarding as you might hope. 

Still, though, despite the fact that watching the film was equal parts work and pleasure, I have to acknowledge, despite some flaws, it's a pretty incredible movie.

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