Written for Trafic no. 26, Summer 1998, and published there in French translation; it has also appeared in English in the collection I coedited with Adrian Martin, Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia. – J.R.
This year  the Rotterdam Film Festival ran for twelve days in late January and early February. But I could only attend the first half — five days apart from opening night. And thanks to a vidéothèque at the festival with copies of most of the films being shown -– including many that were scheduled for the festival’s second half -– l found myself alternating most days between screenings at the Pathé and the Lantaren, the festival’s two multiplexes, where I was always watching something with an audience (between twenty and several hundred people), and solitary sessions with earphones at the vidéothèque (located on the ground floor of the Hotel Central, which served as Gestapo headquarters during the war).
A few other facts: I managed to see about forty films and videos, but only ten of these were full features; I also, for one reason or another, walked out of or only sampled five other features at the multiplexes and wound up fast-forwarding my way through one other feature at the Central – Gunnar Bergdahl’s documentary The Voice of Bergman (1997), where I went looking for Bergman’s dismissal of Dreyer as a filmmaker who made only two films of value, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Day of Wrath (1943).… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 23, 2006). — J.R.
Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien
Written by Chu T’ien-wen and Hou
With Chang Chen, Shu Qi, Di Mei, Liao Su-jen, and Mei Fang
For decades Chinese history has been suppressed in China, on the mainland and in Taiwan, whether the subject is occupation or revolution, communism or capitalism. Recovering that history has become an obsession for art film directors such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhang-ke, Stanley Kwan, Edward Yang, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wong Kar-wai, whose films are set in both the past and the present.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times (2005) is split into three episodes set in Taiwan, each running about 40 minutes and featuring Chang Chen and Shu Qi; all three reflect Hou’s overriding concern with the way one’s sense of freedom, desire, and life possibilities is inflected by the age one lives in. The episodes are also about romantic disconnection and failed communication, with the romantic tensions reflecting international ones.
In “A Time for Love,” set in 1966 in Kaohsiung, Chen (Chang) receives his draft notice, then writes a love letter to May (Shu), who works at the snooker parlor where he hangs out. He discovers that she’s taken a job at another snooker parlor, and to the strains of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Rain and Tears” he heads off to find her before reporting for duty.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 10, 1995). — J.R.
Ashes of Time
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Wong Kar-wai
With Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Kar-fai, Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia,Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, and Karina Lau.
There’s no question that Chinese cinema is in a state of upheaval. On the mainland the government’s film bureau has introduced new legislation that would discourage foreign financing of local production, and it’s blacklisted many of the best (and best-known) independent filmmakers and video artists, including Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), Zhang Yimou (To Live), and Zhang Yuan (Mama). Meanwhile the market for Chinese movies in both Taiwan and Hong Kong has taken a nosedive. Last summer, for the first time in Hong Kong in three decades, Hollywood movies outgrossed locally made movies (with Speed and The Flintstones leading the pack). And according to Asian film specialist Tony Rayns, most of the best Taiwanese directors are seeking new sources of financing and exploring foreign markets now that their local audiences are drifting away. Even the most publicized romance in the Chinese film world, the one between director Zhang Yimou and star Gong Li, is on the rocks.… Read more »
The following is the 16th column I’ve written for Cahiers du Cinéma España, a bimonthly feature that I write for this magazine called “En movimiento,” translated into Spanish by Carlos Reviriego, the editor-in-chief; it appeared in their March 2010 issue (no. 32). – J.R.
The bound galleys of a new book by Jerry Roberts (a name unfamiliar to me), 480 pages long, has just arrived in the mail, and its title already made me uneasy before I even looked inside: The Complete History of American Film Criticism. Santa Monica Press announces a publication date of April 1, 2010. Even though this appears to be a serious and careful work within its own limits, there are reasons at the outset for both defining and challenging these limits.
At least three separate problems are raised by three of the seven words in the title — “the,” “complete,” and “American”:
(1) Why “the” and not “a”? To suggest something definitive at the outset is already to fib — in the same way that I believe that Nick James, the editor of Sight and Sound, fibbed, presumably without realizing it, in the Spring 2009 issue of Film Quarterly when he wrote, “The wonderful golden run of great international cinema in the 1990s that brought us the best of Edward Yang, Wong Kar-wai, Takeshi Kitano, and Abbas Kiarostami, among many others, petered out several years ago.” Anyone who makes such a claim — even though, I’m sorry to say, this is a completely commonplace statement for a film critic to make — assumes in advance either that he or she has already seen every film ever made in the 1990s and is qualified at the present moment to evaluate them all, or that one can depend totally on the judgments (both current and lasting) made by programmers, distributors, and other writers.… Read more »