Daily Archives: February 17, 1995

A Time to Live and a Time to Die

A reflective autobiographical film (1985) about filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien’s youth in the late 40s and early 50s. Largely filmed in the same places in Taiwan where the events originally happened, this unhurried family chronicle carries an emotional force and a historical significance that may not be immediately apparent. Working in long takes and wide-screen, deep focus compositions that frame the characters from a discreet distance, Hou allows the locations to seep into our own memories and experience, so that, as in Olmi’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs and Tian’s The Blue Kite, we come to know them almost as intimately as touchstones in our own lives. Yet paradoxically, the unseen Chinese mainland carries as much weight in the film as the landscape of Taiwan: Hou’s Christian family left in 1948, and the revolution that followed made it impossible for them to return. Subtly interweaving everyday details with processes and understandings that evolve over years, the film conveys a density of familial detail that we usually encounter only in certain novels, and a sense of the tragic within hailing distance of Ozu. This was the first film by Hou I ever saw, and it provides an excellent introduction to his work as a whole.… Read more »