September 23–October 8, 2004
A few years ago, one of my then-colleagues at Cahiers du cinéma, Marc Chevry, launched a stimulating series of articles reflecting on the nature of cinema, titled “Le cinéma contre l’image” (“cinema against image”). My understanding of the guiding principle behind the series is that cinema is not just a succession of images that can be easily fetishised, but, as another Cahiers theoretician, Jean-Pierre Oudart, has stated in an earlier, landmark article, “Cinema and Suture”, a signifying process in which the disappearance of the image, as well as the death of the spectator, are enacted:
Every filmic field is echoed by an absent field, the place of a character who is put there by the viewer’s imaginary and which we shall call the Absent One. At a certain moment of a reading, all the objects of a filmic field combined together to form the signifier of its absence; at this key moment the image enters the order of a signifier. (1)
At each cut, Oudard suggests, the spectator is abolished in order to be represented by the next shot, the next image. This is the paradoxical position in which I find myself at the moment of writing this article on the 23rd Vancouver International Film Festival, for what has stayed in my memory is a series of isolated, powerful, sometimes unbearable images. All these images, however, are questioning my position as a spectator, in a way that directly addresses my own mortality. Barthes, among others, insists that what is at stake in photography, is the death of the subject whose image is taken (2). In cinema, what is at stake through the suturing process, is the death of the spectator as well. Some films – called “entertainment” (3) – are designed to make us forget this, while others, courageously, plunge us into the essence of things.
The first image that keeps haunting me comes from Oh, Uomo (Oh, Man) (2004), the latest opus from the team Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, whose intensive work on found footage has produced, among other landmarks, From the Pole to the Equator (1986). The image is that of a black man, wearing a soldier’s uniform, grinning. All his life, he was probably told that this was the proper thing to do for a black man when a white person points a camera in his direction – he’s grinning like the “Negro” on the boxes of cocoa they were selling during my childhood in France (Y’a bon Banania!). Jean-Paul Sartre would have said “He’s playing at being a Negro” – he’s doing too much of it, his grin is too wide, servile, forced – it’s a grotesque, horrifying caricature, almost a grin without a man. For half of his face is gone, torn by bullets or explosions in some trenches in the North-East of France.
For the third instalment of their trilogy on World War I – started with Prigionieri delle guerra (Prisoners of War) (1995) and Su tutte le vetta è pace (On the Heights All is Peace) (1998) – Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi excavated, restored, rephotographed, reframed and edited footage (some of it previously unknown) mostly shot by medical personal throughout Europe and Russia in the few years following the war. The first section deals with the bodies of children – suffering from malnutrition and crippling diseases, orphaned, having lost even the desire to cry. As the original footage was designed to bear witness to the horrors of war, nurses and doctors hold the tiny bodies, naked, in front of the camera. Nobody asked the children what they thought of this additional violation. Similarly, the French Army’s Medical Services asked the wounded veterans in their care to pose and expose their mutilations. As in the case of the orphans, they probably didn’t have a choice, and the footage was taken for scientific reasons – documenting the efforts of the (imperfect) reconstructive surgery of the time to graft an ear, to rebuild a jaw, or to fit an amputee with prothesis that could allow him some mobility. Most of the men photographed smile; their presence in front of the camera (which, at that time was a heavy, cumbersome apparatus necessitating a certain time of pose) is a performative act. They do what people are supposed to do when they “go to the photographer”. Mutilated or disfigured, it’s their portrait, their entry into history.
Using such footage creates a critical ethical dilemma. Should someone whose body has been abused by war, who has then been probed in front of a camera, be subjected to a third humiliation/objectification through the gaze of spectators of the contemporary found footage film? In their desire to make a point, to protest injustice, many archival documentaries eschew the question. In their otherwise remarkable documentary, In the Name of the Emperor (1995), Chris Choy and Nancy Tong reconstruct the atrocities committed in 1937 by the Japanese army during what became known as “the Rape of Nanking”. They use footage shot by an American missionary, John McGee – including a sequence in which a horrified Western doctor holds the half-severed neck of an old Chinese woman, still alive, opening the wound even further to create a “more powerful image”. I have no doubt that McGee’s intentions was to trigger indignation in Western countries so they would feel compelled to help the Chinese in resisting the Japanese invasion – while Choy and Tong meant to use this footage to force the Japanese government to recognise the massacre – but had the old Chinese woman wanted to be a witness? How much did she suffer when the doctor made the cut gape wider? More troubling – because it comes from a couple of German filmmakers, Bengt and Irmgard von zur Mühlen, who have turned their succession of movies about contemporary German history and especially the Holocaust into a profitable enterprise – is the uncritical display of human suffering as filmed by Soviet cinematographers during the liberation of Nazi Concentration camps. In movies such as Die Befreiung von Auschwitz (The Liberation of Auschwitz) (1986) the von zur Mühlens splice together shots in which the victims of Nazi medical experiments are forced to stand, naked, on a table, in front of the camera, to expose their mutilated and castrated bodies. Under the guise of “denunciation”, the films are one small step removed from downright pornography.
Gianikian and Ricci Lucchi’s ethical and critical stance comes from their use of an “analytic camera” designed to “reshoot the image, change its timing and rhythm, the details, the colour, reframe it, endow it with a context.” This work on the texture, the physical properties of the original material, forces us to confront the nature of our gaze, of our voyeurism, of filmic representation. As the footage slows down to sometimes excruciating pace (how long can we stare at that grin?) we become painfully aware of the choices once made – by a now-long-dead cameraman – and the shift introduced by the rephotographing and the recontextualising. In Oh, Uomo what jumps at you is “these forgotten anonymous beings”’s desperate quest for identity. “Neither their name, nor the place where they were wounded is mentioned, and no information about their life is provided. Their identity emerges through gestures, looks, facial expressions, details… Silent expressions of rage and embarrassment at being forced to pose in front of a supposedly scientific and medical camera. Impossibility to hide the marks left by war on the body itself.” (4)
The only black man in the series, the nameless tirailleur sénégalais (Senegalese infantryman), addresses me with unforeseen violence. Look at me, he seems to say. They made a dumb Negro out of me, then a cannon fodder, then a medical subject. Through his tortured face, the history of French colonialism speaks to me. We forcibly drafted “Natives” from their African villages in “our colonies”, put a gun in their hands and marched them down in the mean, cold plains of war. Their courage and stamina were without par – but how were they treated in times of peace? My filmic memory inserts this image of Oh, Uomo into another series, another continuum, this time produced by the Senegalese themselves when they appropriated the camera. In two powerful, anti-colonialist films, Ousmane Sembene, “the father of African Cinema”, narrated a parallel, contiguous story – about what happened to African war veterans after WWII. Emitai (1971) recounts the massacre of a village in Casamance by the French army, after the men had been drafted and the rice commandeered. Also based on an historical fact, Camp de Thiaroye (1987) deals with another massacre – that of hundreds of infantrymen quartered into a “transit camp” in 1944, as a response to their claims for fair pay and fair treatment.
And it is Ousmane Sembene, now 81, who gives me the second image I want to write about. In Moolaadé (2004), the handsome face of an older man, Amsatou, is shown in close-up, at a moment of cruel ambivalence. His wife, Colle, herself a victim of genital mutilation when she was a girl, has refused to let the operation be performed on her daughter, who has now grown into a beautiful young woman. As a group of young girls has just been selected for the “ritual”, Colle declares moolaadé (protection) over them, and shelters them in her house, creating havoc in an already-divided community. Modernity has crept in, with its ambivalent gifts: the portable radios, beloved by the women for whom they are a source of music and alternative news; consumer culture, personalised by the colourful, jocular, slightly corrupt salesman Mercenaire, who hikes the price of bread and other goodies and shamelessly tries to seduce the women; and the return of a Westernised young man who is not sure anymore what to make of the privilege his new status entails, especially in the domain of sexual politics (should he marry a docile teenage virgin, or an uncircumcised, independent young woman?).
The elders retaliate, confiscate the women’s radios, eventually set them into fire, and challenge Amsatou’s manhood. Why can’t he make his wife obey him? A beautiful, charismatic woman, Colle seems to have enjoyed a warm relationship with her husband. Yet the latter yields to tradition, and, publicly, whips his spouse. The strength of Sembene’s filmmaking is in the way he shoots that scene. While we are with Colle, Amsatou is never constructed as the villain, but as the hapless transmitter of a social unbalance that threatens to further damage African societies. Sembene has made films since 1962, and, in his first feature, La Noire de… (Black Girl) (1966) he explored the plight and subsequent suicide of a domestic worker who had followed her colonialist employers in France. Following Sembene’s footsteps, African cinema has produced a series of masterpieces since the 1970s, but, with the exceptions of women like Safi Faye and Fanta Regina Nacro, the majority of the filmmakers are men – some of them taking on the responsibility of directing harrowingly feminist films: Cheik Oumar Sissoko’s Finzan (1989), for example, was already a masterful, sensitive protest against forced marriages and female circumcision. In Sembene’s films, women, albeit constrained by the antiquated structures of patriarchy, are free-spirited, witty and powerful (in Faat-Kine, completed four years ago, Sembene draws the engaging portrait of a single mother running a business, raising her teenage children and eventually finding romantic happiness in her own terms). Since Xala (1974), in which he caustically deconstructed post-colonial virility, Sembene has consistently criticised the way African men are trapped in the illusion of what Lacan calls “the phallic function” (5).
Yet, maybe one of the most acute contemporary tragedies is the necessity we still find ourselves to have “great men” (philosophers, psychoanalysts, filmmakers) “to describe male privilege even as [they] denaturalise it” (6) – in other words to speak about the rights/the oppression of women from a position of actual power that is both a burden and a privilege (7). This contradiction is particularly acute in Sembene’s cinema, in which the director’s privileged position as a man is what gives him the possibility to speak for and about woman. In relation to colonialism, however, Sembene is in a position of powerlessness. For many years, he could only get funding from the French government (8) or French independent producers, a paradoxical situation if one considers that this is how he financed La Noire de… and Emitai. Camp the Thiaroye, on the other hand, made without French money, was one of the first Panafrican productions (Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria) – but, as Sembene adopted this radical position, it has become increasingly more difficult for him to make films. In a position of power vis-à-vis his women folks, the colonised man is in a position of subjection vis-à-vis the coloniser. A quick reading would then see the colonised man as “not-whole” in the phallic function of power and would draw equivalence between his plight and that of women. Yet – without denying that the colonised man has a first hand experience at powerlessness – it seems that a more correct formula would follow Engels’ phrase: “in the proletarian family, the man is the capitalist, and the woman the proletarian.” By disempowering and symbolically castrating the African man, colonisation has aggravated tensions between the genders. Like Amsatou, in a situation of crisis, men seek refuge in male bonding, against and at the expense of women.
This is why this I find so haunting the close-up of a husband who loves and respect his wife but finally gives up to social pressures to punish and humiliate her in public. Moolaadé is a paean to the strength, the determination of women; it is about Colle’s fight. Yet it is a man, entangled in his own contradictions, who chose to tell the story. And, like the Barthesian punctum, or, even better, like these Renaissance artists who put their own portrait on the bottom corner of a religious painting, Sembene represented his dilemma, on the margin on the filmic discourse, where it could move us subliminally.
The third image comes from Taiwan, in a fascinating, multi-layered dialogue with both the history of representation in mainland China and Western literature/theory. Throughout his work, the French writer Georges Bataille (9) mentioned his long-standing obsession with the “image of pain, at once ecstatic (?) and intolerable” (10) he had seen in the photograph of a Chinese torture (given to him by the psychoanalyst Borel). A young man, probably rendered semi-unconscious with opium, is meticulously hacked into pieces. The photograph captures the moment when his arms have been severed, his genitals cut off and pieces of flesh sliced off his chest. Surrounded by attentive observers (some of them bending their head so they can see better), the man looks upward with an air of unspeakable horror and/or rapture. Bataille’s particular place in the literary/theoretical pantheon of Western culture has turned this photograph and the texts it inspired into ambiguous artefacts – almost as infamous as the writings of Sade or Pasolini’s Salo (1975). In a way, they are much more violent, for while the Sadean rituals are fictional, a real man was once tortured and died in front of a still camera. Dating from 1905, at a time when China was opening up to the West, and hence to the photographic image (11), it was long assumed that the picture had been taken by a Western photographer. Indeed, a number of early documents brought back to France or America deal with violence, chaos and cruelty, comforting the Orientalist construct of China as a mysterious, barbaric and dangerous place (12). Yet, recontextualising the issue of imperialism, the position taken by the Taiwanese visual artist Chen Chieh-jen in his 25 minute black and white video Lingchi: Echoes of a Historical Photograph (2002) is much more radical. In his reconstruction of the moments leading to the infamous photography, Chen shows an imported still camera, imported bundles of opium – an allusion to the imperialist designs of Britain that triggered the Opium War and forced China to accept a series of “unequal treaties” with Western powers (13) – but the photographer is Chinese, and so are the onlookers.
In his last book The Tears of Eros, Bataille gives some additional information about the photography. A Frenchman, Carpeaux, claimed to have been present at the execution. The condemned man, “Fou-Tchou-Li” (14) had been sentenced to be burnt alive for the killing of a Mongolian prince, but, finding the sentence “too cruel”, the Emperor commuted it to “slow death by Leng-Tch’e (cutting into pieces)… a torture [dating] from the Manchu dynasty (1644–1911).” (15) As the victim was fed and smeared with opium, it was supposed that the pain was dulled. What was at stake was the spectacular nature of the torture, in which not only onlookers, but the victim himself was the witness of the slow dismemberment. It was a Chinese gaze that was addressed, and the photographer who took a record of the torture did it to show it to other Chinese.
In a recent article (written as an answer to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ), Francine Prose reminds us that, until quite recently, not only in China but throughout Western countries “gory executions provided a form of popular entertainment.” The goal was to frighten the population with the well-orchestrated spectacle of crime being punished. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, catholic iconography replicated such spectacles in the walls of its churches, such as San Stefano Rotondo in Rome. “Encircling the interior of the round basilica is a cyclorama of torture and death: thirty scenes of saints being flayed, devoured by wild beasts, roasted alive and so forth.” (16) These paintings expanded the feelings of fear created by the public executions, to keep the population in check, a solution well-known to every despotic government. In Chinese folk stories about hell, the Leng-Tch’e occupies a prominent place as well.
So, the intended witnesses were Chinese. Yet this photograph reaches us – and the young Taiwanese filmmaker – through multiple layers of commentaries and interpretations that go from the East to the West and back to the East. In her incisive discussion of Bataille’s work, Amy Hollywood brings forward Rey Chow’s commentary on a 1922 text written by Lu Xun, that deconstructs Chinese spectatorship. In the original text, Lu Xun (1881–1936) recalls that, when he was a medical student in Tokyo between 1904 and 1906, a Japanese instructor showed newsreel slides to the students. In one of them were “a number of Chinese, one of them bound, and the other standing behind him. They were all sturdy fellows but looked completely apathetic. According to the commentary, the one with his hands bound was a spy working for the Russians who was to be beheaded by the Japanese military as a warning to others, while the Chinese beside him had come to enjoy the spectacle.” Lu Xun’s reaction was violent: he left Tokyo and gave up medicine: “the people of a weak and backward country… could only serve to be made examples of or witnesses of such futile spectacles; and it was not necessarily deplorable if many of them died of illness. The most important thing, therefore, was to change their spirit.” (17)
Rey Chow re-interprets the event to discuss the original impact of unmediated visuality (film and/or photography) in a post-colonial, Third World country. The shock experienced by Lu Xun, she contends, was two-fold: “first the realization of his and his countrymen’s existence as a spectacle in the eyes of the world… second… the realization that he is in the presence of a powerful medium” (18). Whether or not the photographer/cameraman was Chinese, Japanese or Russian, the “indexical” contiguity between the camera and the subject (a contiguity that is simultaneous with that of the contemporary onlookers) is later subsumed into a commodified artefact that addresses viewers in a different time and space. So a Chinese student in a Japanese auditorium can re-witness an execution that may have taken place the year before in Manchuria, and, in the 1950s or ’60s a Frenchman, in his study, can lose himself in the contemplation of a picture shot in China in 1904. Their reaction is markedly different. In addition to “the horror of an execution, [Lu Xun] sees the horror of the activity of watching… It is this spectacle, this image of a passive collective mesmerized in spectatorship, that projects itself on the spectator Lu Xun with the effect of shock.” (19) On the other hand, as Amy Hollywood notices, “Bataille describes only the victim. The photograph [is] not reproduced…[its] provenance is never discussed; nor does Bataille give any attention to the political and historical context in which [it] was made. These omissions, I think, are deliberate.” (20) Bataille actually claimed that meditating in front of the photograph allowed him to communicate with the torture victim:
This young and seductive Chinese man… left to the work of the executioner – I loved him with a love in which the sadistic instinct played no part: he communicated his pain to me or perhaps the excessive nature of his pain, and it was precisely that which I was seeking, not so as to take pleasure in it, but in order to ruin in me that which is opposed to ruin. (21)
With Lingchi, Chen has made a brave and intelligent film that somewhat takes into account the contradictory readings generated by the original photography, and its place in the shaping of our contemporary literary, post-colonial modernity. He follows an idea radiantly beautiful in its simplicity: showing the moment fixated in time by the shutter as the result of a long, painstakingly executed process. We see the man fed with enough quantity of opium to kill a cow, than his body smeared with more opium, then the methodical work of the executioners (tastefully shot using off-screen and shadows). Because of his drug-altered state, he seems curiously absent, as if this was happening to somebody else. His body is gradually taken away from him, but he’s already gone. On the other hand, firmly rooted in the scene, are the onlookers, only a few inches from the victim, so close they could almost touch him. Chen creates a feeling of claustrophobia lacking in the original picture, shifting the real subject of the ritual from victimhood to spectatorship. The almost dead man, the executioners, the spectators, form a quasi- organic whole in which the one who receives and the ones who inflict pain, the spectacle and the gaze are intermingled. There is an immense amount of care, a sort of atrocious tenderness in the way the executioners smear opium on the naked body, size it up, approach it with various instruments. And unlike the bloody circus games in Rome, or the public executions in Europe that took place on a sort of proscenium “stage”, allowing the spectator a comfortable distance from the victim, this execution seems more of a “participatory” act on the part of the onlookers. They are so close they can see the flesh quiver. It could be them.
Chen’s piece opens up questions it does not necessarily answer – nor should it have to – and its presence in the Asian section of the Festival demonstrates the visual and theoretical sophistication reached by Taiwanese media – a situation that one may perceive with a touch of melancholy, considering the dire financial situation in which the local film industry is right now. The most important Taiwanese film, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Café Lumière (Kohi Jikou) (2003) is actually a Japanese production. Preceded by contradictory rumours that became exacerbated when the film was rejected by Cannes, this is the long-awaited “homage to Ozu” to celebrate the centennial of his birth. The question of Hou’s relationship to the Japanese master is complex (22) – and, far from being a “remake”, Café Lumière is a subtle meditation on the mysteries, lures and failures of cultural influences and appropriation. The heroine, Yoko, is doing research on a Taiwanese-born composer, Jiang Wenye, who had settled in Japan and married a Japanese woman. Yoko is shown “floating” between several physical and mental places: apparently unemotionally attached, she travels back and forth between the rural home of her parents (her aging father, her affectionate foster-mother), Tokyo where she lives alone but has a large network of musical/literary friends, and Taipei, kept purposefully off-screen, where she goes for her research but also, as we are slowly revealed, to have an affair with a Chinese man. Hou catches Yoko at a moment of “crisis” – as she’s interviewing Jiang’s luminous widow, who recounts moments of tenderness with her spouse (“he would call me Pansy”) but also of cross-cultural difficulties (“people would say we were a bad match”) she’s painfully aware that she’s pregnant with the man, and has no intention of marrying him. All this time, as she’s wandering through Tokyo, Hou films the city as he would Taipei (23) – which makes a lot of sense if one considers how influenced by Japanese architecture some aspects of Taipei are – and I’m not talking about the “landmarks”, but the most humble, most quotidian aspects of urban living: street corners, back alleys, tiled entrances, traffic. He films it as a familiar, intimate terrain, not as an exotic land (a la Sofia Coppola) but neither like the postmodern temple of steel-and-glass depicted by Edward Yang in Taipei Story (Qingmei Zhuma) (1985) or Yi Yi (2000) – two Taiwanese films that create a parallel between Tokyo and Taipei. He films it like Jiang Wenye may have seen it after decades of exile.
There is, indeed, an “Ozu moment”, but it takes place when Yoko comes to visit her parents in the country. She tells her foster mother that she intends to keep the baby and raise it by herself. In turn the mother tells the father. Ozu shows us the face of this man, silent, looking away from the family scene, lost in his thoughts. He realises that the world he believed in, and in which he thought he has raised his daughter, is no more – and that in the “new order” his voice does not matter. Patriarchal authority does not matter, “shame” no longer means anything, unwed pregnancy is to be taken casually – the only problem is money (“does she have enough?”) and, of course, love. She does not love that man, but she’ll love the baby, and, of course I love my daughter, so, even if these entangled layers of love and non-love displace me to the point of insignificance, so be it… Hou captures that face in that fragile moment of doubt, loss and unbalance, as beautifully as Sembene did with Colle’s husband.
In mainland China, the situation is quite the reverse of what’s happening in Taiwan. The economy is growing, and, while censorship still exists, there’s been a loosening of restrictions that is triggering a blossoming of film production: state studios, above-ground companies, independent producers and filmmakers, joint ventures with foreigners, television… The most important film of the year, Jia Zhangke’s The World (Shijie) (2004) is a co-production between several partners including the Shanghai Film Studio and Office Kitano in Japan (the latter having already contributed to Jia’s previous film), which is paradoxical, since Jia was one of the most articulate spokespersons for “underground cinema” in China. Fans may rest assured – Jia has not sold out. One of the most powerful Chinese movies of the last few years, The World describes the effects of globalisation in urban centres with uncanny accuracy and more than a twinge of melancholia. The film starts with a young woman, Tao, dressed in a slightly off-balance post-Maoist idea of what an Indian dancer’s costume should be, running through the narrow, dirty hallways of some backstage area, disturbing a bevy of similarly dressed and coiffed performers, and screaming on the top of her lungs for a band-aid. This is no small matter: the show is about to start, her heel is scratched, and she’s about to put on one of these ridiculous tight dancing shoes that hurt like hell. She’s a dancer in a theme park outside Beijing called “The World”, complete with floor shows, model replicas of the Eiffel Tower, The Pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the World Trade Center (“our towers are still standing”, the tour guide says proudly), fake airplanes, and other artificial wonders. As it turns out, Jia did shoot these sequences in a real Chinese theme park – except it’s nowhere near Beijing, but in the “Special Economic Zone” of Shenzhen, this no man’s land between Hong Kong and mainland China, capitalism and socialism. While his mise en scène creates a smooth collage between two heterogeneous spaces, Jia maintains the realism of his camera, and the spatial dislocation makes sense, for the film’s protagonists are constantly on the move, constantly in-between, either physically or emotionally. Most of them have flocked from the countryside, attracted to Beijing like moths to a light, buzzing around a modernity that taunts them and eludes them, living in cramped rooms, dormitories or dingy hotels, and not making enough money to apply for a passport that would allow them to travel. The lucky ones work in the “entertainment business”, the unlucky ones on the dangerous construction sites that are reshaping Beijing’s cityscape, where security is, at best, flimsy. Tao is between two men – one upwardly mobile countryman whose mother thought she was not good enough for him, who comes to visit her en route for the greener pastures of Inner Mongolia, and Taisheng, a park security guard with whom she can’t quite resolve to have sex. The uneasiness of their relationship reflects a new generation of young Chinese who absorb patterns of Western lifestyle though pop culture and movies without being able to adapt to them. Frustrated, Taisheng engages in a complex flirtation with a sweetly seductive dressmaker, who keeps a picture of her husband, taken in front of a Paris subway entrance ten years ago. She’s been without news since, but one day she’ll get a passport and look for him. Meanwhile Tao’s best friend is a Russian woman brought to Beijing with another group of girls by a manager/pimp who confiscate their passport upon arrival. The two women dance together at “The World” and communicate without being able to understand each other’s language – until the Russian “manager” finds “another job” for his girls. Going to a party in some upscale karaoke club where she dodges the advances of a sleazy businessman who wants to take her to Hong Kong, Tao meets her friend, who works now as a hostess/prostitute, and the two women cry in each other’s arms. Money or no money, everybody has a cell phone, and the (mis)communication between friends and lovers (“Party tonight” “Why didn’t you answer your phone when I called you?”) is replicated by short animated sequences that punctuate the narration, as it descends deeper and deeper into a quiet but unescapable despair. I have always been in awe of Jia’s films and find it difficult to assign “a ranking” to them (this one is better than that one etc…) – yet with The World it is clear that he has directed a masterpiece.
Chinese cinema had an exceptionally good year in 2004, and some of the best films were at Vancouver. Zhu Wen, who had made a splash with his first feature, Seafood (2001), has reaped a number of prizes in many festivals with South of the Clouds (Yun de Nanfang) (2003), the deceptively simple story of Xu, a widower who tries to catch a glimpse at the life he could have had. Rejecting the efforts of his alluring, enterprising and beloved gym-instructor daughter to find him a new wife, he goes by himself to Yunnan. During the Cultural Revolution, he had promised a friend of his, “sent down” to that remote province, that he would replace him and go instead. Yet, at the last minute, he met a woman and stayed in his Northern city. Soon a father, and too soon a widower, he lived a completely different life, but now that he’s retired, he’s free to find out what might have happened to him if he had gone to Yunnan. A series of chance meetings – with a woman from the Mosuo minority, with a prostitute who gets him in trouble with the police, with a benevolent police chief (Fifth Generation director Tian Zhuangzhuang in a splendid cameo) – do indeed change his life, but not in the way he had expected. Kept in house arrest in his hotel until the prostitute can be found to retract her story (good luck!), Xu becomes friends with the hotel cook, who invites him on an outing to the hotel vegetable garden. “I can’t leave the premises,” says Xu, “or I’ll be arrested again.” “The garden is still hotel ground”, the cook responds, smilingly. And so it goes…
South of the Clouds was Zhu’s first “above-ground” production, but the independent sector survives beautifully – mostly with digitally shot films. Ning Hao’s Incense (Xianghuao) (2004) follows the sincere-but-awkward efforts of a young monk to raise money to repair the fallen statue of Buddha in his little temple in the rural Shanxi province. Local authorities have spent all the monies allocated to “religious affairs” on another temple and a highway; begging for alms is illegal and sends him to share a country jail cell with a bunch of young prostitutes forced to watch “sexual hygiene tapes”; but selling Buddha’s blessing is not, and our hero discovers he can make money by telling a girl that she’s destined to marry her current boyfriend, by reorganising the feng shui of a house, and finally luck strikes when the woman to whom he had promised she would give birth to a boy… actually does, against the prognosis of the Western doctors. A Chaplinesque character touched by grace and soiled by the necessity to make a buck, the young monk wanders through the harsh landscapes of his cold province, gradually discovering the inanity of it all…
Pan Jianlin’s Good Morning Beijing (Zao’an Beijing) (2003) loosely juxtaposes two stories – that of a man whose girlfriend has been kidnapped and who enlists the services of an inept and corrupt policeman rather than paying the ransom; and that of two frightened girls locked in a dingy brothel where they service clients. The film unfolds throughout one dark, mean night, in which human foibles are exposed and chance encounters don’t make any sense, till the ambiguous conclusion brought by the morning. And one shouldn’t forget the latest instalment of Cui Zi’en, master of the digital underground, who produces several features a year; the choice for Vancouver, The Narrow Path (Wu Yu) (2004), involves a series of naked, musical aliens who all come from planets whose leader is called Jesus, and get kidnapped by a band of lustful young thugs…
Tang Poetry (Tang Shi) (2003), by writer Zhang Lu, explores the claustrophobic space of a middle-aged thief who refuses to leave his apartment, in spite of the entreaties of his young apprentice/lover. Instead, he watches television programs about Tang poetry and listens to what happens in his neighbour’s apartment. The film is made of rigorously composed fixed shots that often focus on empty spaces, a la Hou Hsiao-hsien. The feeling is different – instead of alluring landscapes or warm domestic spaces, we are staring at the decaying walls, the unimaginative layout of a working-class apartment building in Beijing. Yet, like Hou, Zhang frames the space to suggest an internal landscape, a world of hidden emotions.
Delamu (Cha Ma Gudao: Delamu) (2004) is Tian Zhuangzhuang’s latest opus, a splendid documentary shot on the “Tea Horse Route” from Yunnan to Tibet. Delamu was the name of a mule that died on the road, and when Tian interviews its owner, it’s as if he had lost a member of his family. In his warm, humanistic treatment of the people he encounters, Tian reconnects with his respect for the spirituality of non-Han Chinese – as it was already clear in The Horse Thief (Dao ma zei) (1986). In that film, shot in a semi-documentary way, Tian had to seek the shelter of fiction, and pretend that the story was taking place in 1923, before Communism had “liberated” the Tibetan people from “the opiate” constituted by religion. Now, in 2004, Tian is free to let people speak about what is in their soul as much as what is in their pocket or their kitchen, and he draws a fascinating series of portraits – a Christian pastor from the Lisu tribe; a very young monk who discovers the seduction of the flesh in a dance hall; a 104 year-old woman remembering the men who courted her. Delamu takes a stand that is no less radical than The World: how to film the conflicts between change and stillness, as they are enacted within the psyche of contemporary Asian people – whether they live in the city or in the splendid slopes of the Himalayas.
From Japan came another superb film, from a man who has mixed documentary and fiction throughout his career – always to penetrate deeper into the minds of his subjects. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows (Dare mo shinarai) (2004) succeeds with luminous grace in capturing the fragile world of young children as their mother leaves them alone for months at a time. A fun-loving, affectionate, yet irresponsible playgirl, Keiko smuggles three of her four kids (all from different fathers) into her new apartment to dodge the landlord. Apart from the elder, 12 year-old Akira who is in charge of the brood, the children are instructed never to leave the apartment and never to show themselves to neighbours. As Keiko comes back later and later, and eventually does not come back at all, the children invest each room and each corner of the apartment, turning it into a reservoir of dreams and memories. It eventually becomes all that’s left of their mother. Without money, the electricity and gas being cut off, Akira has to find a way to survive, and gradually his siblings develop a different relationship to the space. The older daughter seek refuge in domestic chores, a toy piano and nostalgia, while the baby sister eventually gets what she wants – an outing in the city, wearing cute little shoes that squeak at every step. What is fascinating in Nobody Knows is that, instead of turning his child actors into “performers”, Kore-eda films them as is they were in a documentary, following their rhythm, their body language and their exploration of the space rather than imposing it on them. As the children’s lives become more and more disconnected from their surroundings (Akira is afraid to ask for help, for fear the social services would separate them) we get a precious glimpse at life as it is seen through the eyes and imaginary of bright, sensitive children.
Thai cinema is slowly but surely becoming a giant to reckon with – and the most splendid film it produced this year was Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad) (2004), Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s third feature. The “malady” in the title is nothing else but love, but love as it emerges from the damp surroundings, the mysterious, haunting landscapes of the Thai countryside. It is also Weerasethakul’s most openly (and most beautifully) gay film – if one excepts The Adventures of Iron Pussy (Huajai Torranong) (2003), a “camp extravaganza” developed by and co-directed with Thai-American multi-media artist and drag queen extraordinaire Michael Shaowanasai. There is nothing camp in Tropical Malady, just two young men, a soldier, Ken, and a young peasant, Tong, who meet and court each other – it could be friendship, but it turns out to be love and when, at the movies Ken puts his hand on Tong’s knee, the spectator experiences a shock. And then one night, as Ken looks at him, Tong leaves and disappears in the depth of the forest. End of part one.
In part two, a young soldier tracks a monster, half-man half-tiger, in the rainforest. Gradually he realises that it is the monster, often shown as a young naked man, who is hunting him. The rainforest starts engulfing him, not only physically but also psychically, as the soldier yields to the pressure of the surroundings and enters a semi-hallucinatory state. When the final confrontation occurs, he utters these beautiful words of surrender: “take my flesh, my blood, my soul, my memories…” It does not matter, of course, whether the surrender is sexual, mystical or mythical. A man gives himself to another being, in the magical surroundings of the rainforest. Some tropical maladies weren’t meant to be cured…
On the margins of Korean cinema – now a major “player” in the South-East Asian film industry – Hong Sang-soo skillfully delves into the foibles, failures, sexual and social impasses of his contemporaries. Woman is the Future of Man (Yeoaneun Namja ui Miraeda) (2004) starts on enticing premises: Heonju, a filmmaker who supports his non-commercial films by teaching in an American university, comes back to Seoul to visit his friend Munho, now a respected academic. They indulge in an afternoon of drunken, desultory conversation, during which two women attract their attention: a waitress that Munho tries to entice to “pose for him” (he teaches art) and a strikingly beautiful woman waiting for something, or someone, on the sidewalk outside the coffee-shop. Heonju convinces a reluctant Munho to pay a visit to Sunhwa, a girl they both knew when they were students, and who now runs a bar in the near-by city of Bucheon. As it turns out, Sunhwa was Heonju’s girlfriend, and he dumped her rather inelegantly when he left for the USA. Then Munho dated, and abused, her as well, albeit in more subtle ways.
When Sunhwa is found, she is strong, beautiful and totally poised; as the evening unravels, with more drinks and more desultory talk, the male psyche bursts out at the seams, revealing how confused, selfish and ultimately fragile the men are. From the bittersweet encounter, recounted by Hong with sharp humour, Sunhwa is the only one to remain unscathed. The title of the film comes from a serendipitous discovery. On the back of a postcard he bought while a student in Paris, Hong saw the line la femme est l’avenir de l’homme. It’s from a poem in which Aragon celebrated the not-yet-realised power of the woman of the future, but it also described how lost man is without woman.
Another exciting film to come out of South-East Asia is Amir Muhammad’s first feature, The Big Durian (2003), an engaging, humorous mix of fiction and documentary designed to address both a national trauma and the racial make-up of Malaysia. Guided by a “narrator” (Muhammad himself) who was still a child when the event happened, the film recounts how, in 1987, a private called Adam Jafaar ran “amok” in a Chinese working class district of Kuala Lumpur, killing one and wounding two. As one of the interviewees notes, amok is one of the two Malay names that have entered everyday English vocabulary (the other being orang-outang). So what made Private Adam (or Private Saddam?…a couple of the people who won’t remember the event wilfully mispronounce his name) run amok? Through this long-forgotten event, through “witnesses” who weren’t even there but are all too happy to talk in front of the camera, or through the (staged?) reaction of those who dodge the camera, Muhammad irreverently addresses the issues of post-colonial politics in Malaysia, antiquated social structure such as the role of the “rajahs”, the racial tension between Malays, Chinese and Indians, the witch-hunt against intellectuals and activists enacted by a repressive government. Yet his vision is witty, generous, filled with love for his “big Durian” of a country, “prickly and stinky, hard on the outside but creamy on the inside.” (24) A little gem of irreverent political filmmaking.
Images of the World
Yet, the most insolent film of the year was directed by 78 year-old Youssef Chahine, the giant that has been towering over Egyptian cinema since 1950. Alexandrie… New York (2004) may not be his best film (but, hell, the man has produced so many masterpieces) yet it’s the one that articulates the most acutely his cultural dilemma. In love with American cinema (especially the musicals of the ’30s and ’40s) since his teens, Chahine was treated as a second-class citizen when he came to study at the Pasadena Playhouse, and, while he’s a household name in the rest of the world, American mainstream culture continues to ignore him. In Alexandrie… New York, Chahine intercuts video images of himself receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at Cannes, with close-ups of the actor playing his cinematic alter ego, Yehia, and shots of an American actress saying, at earshot of Yehia’s fictional wife in the audience “Who’s this asshole?” (the story is too good not to be true – alas). Except that the American actress is not a blonde, and she says the infamous line in Arab. As a spirited response to all these American films “taking place in Cairo” but shot on a Burbank soundstage, in which the orange seller speaks to his wife in Southern Californian English – Chahine shot the entire film in Arabic, in a studio in Cairo (with a few background shots taken in the streets of New York) with Egyptian actors. The story unfolds over a few decades, showing Yehia finding love with the Southern belle Ginger in Pasadena, only to lose it when he has to return to Egypt, and then meeting and missing the woman, through her own ups and downs in life, only to discover that one night of stolen love when they were both in their forties, he fathered a son, now a ballet dancer, who, raised by a racist man, hates Arabs. The ending is more bitter than sweet – the son “discovers” the true nature of his father by watching Chahine’s Alexandria Why (1979) in a retrospective devoted to Yehia – but the father walks alone in the streets of New York without a final meeting taking place. If there’s a joke it is on Chahine himself as it is on the post-colonial subjects who had once hoped to “make a difference” within American culture. This makes the film all the more poignant, but also more obscure to mainstream US audiences, who have a hard time understanding anybody else’s cultural plight but their own.
From Israel, Or (My Treasure) (2004), the first feature by a young female filmmaker Keren Yedaya, brought unexpected images of the mean streets of working-class Tel-Aviv, where a middle-aged prostitute continues to ply her trade, while her daughter, 17 year-old Or, keeps doing odd jobs, in addition to going to school and falling in love with the boy next door, to push her mother to go straight. But how can you fall in love with your neighbour (and part-time employer)’s son when everybody in the building knows what your mother does for a living? And how can you keep your mother off the streets when the only job you can find for her is that of a cleaning lady, and that going to work early in the morning is so hard – especially if a long-lost lover comes knocking at your door with a smile and a couple of croissants? Drawing an intimate, generous portrait of two hard-working women whose love for each other transcends the way they hurt each other, Yedaya eschews melodrama, but not tragedy – for the wretched of the earth, for the poor of this world, there may be no way out.
From Argentina, Lisandro Alonso confirms his immense talent with his second feature, Los Muertos (2004). Shooting documentary-style, in long takes, with minimalist action and almost no dialogue, Alonso follows the long journey of a 50-something man, Vargas, from his release from a dingy rural prison to the house of his now-married daughter in a small village, going up river in a small canoe through swamps and deserted areas, stopping here for a cheap roll in the hay with a local prostitute, there to buy food and a modest present for his daughter. Vargas’ secret, the reason for his long internment, the single-mindedness behind his journey, is not revealed – and the possibly atrocious secret behind the last enigmatic, empty shot remains unsolved. Yet, somehow, we got to know Vargas – his body language, the rhythm of his breathing, how he eats, how he sleeps, how, in his solitude, he bonds with nature after years of being behind bars. In a way that parallels Tropical Malady, the true story may take place between the haunting surroundings and the protagonist. One scene is particularly revealing of both the film’s discourse and Lisandro’s style and method. A sequence (shot in continuity, and almost shown in a single shot) shows Vargas capturing a goat on the bank of the river, killing it, and then skinning it and gutting it on the boat, washing the blood out of his body afterwards. In the next sequence, he’s carrying the goat on his back as a present to the people helping him find his daughter. The slaughtering of the animal may be read as a metaphor for the brutal killings once committed by Vargas – but also as a manual for survival in the swamp, a simple documentary of how a man like Vargas – like the protagonist of Alonso’s La Libertad (2001), who also kills an animal in the course of the film – carries on his life.
Vancouver is also known for its selection of US indies, which included two exceptional films this year, Jennifer Reeves’ The Time We Killed (2003) and Jem Cohen’s Chain (2004). While they appear to be very different – Reeves’ film was shot in a moody black and white subjective camera, while Cohen unfolds elegantly composed shots – they actually have more in common than they appear, and, together, draw a portrait of the two opposite kinds of urban spaces that America has produced: the small cramped New York apartments, and the anonymous spaces of shopping malls and motels. Both are shot, rather obsessively, by their makers; both are an arresting mixture of documentary and fiction; both are carried on by female voices on the soundtrack; and more importantly, both resort to what I call a “cubist” approach – constructing a fictional space designed to explore the multiple facets of reality by montaging heterogeneous spaces together, thus suggesting a different relationship between inside and outside, the private and the public. In The Time We Killed, shot primarily in Reeves’ own Brooklyn apartment, what we see “from the window” may have been shot in the East Village, while the story of the dogs barking takes place in Hell’s Kitchen. The film’s protagonist, Robyn, is a claustrophobic writer haunted by memories of a failed suicide as a teenager and no-less-failed love affairs, and can’t leave her apartment (it does not help that, in the course of the diegesis, the attack in the World Trade Center happens). Like the thief in Tang Poetry, she spends a lot of time listening to her neighbours. The reality of her enclosed living conditions, the distant perceptions, the recollections and imaginary projections of the outside world keep mingling in her head – as Reeves herself mixes and match the shooting formats (high contrast 16 mm film, mini-DV). The composite image of a city becomes the contradictory portrait of a woman, or vice-versa – and something of our modernity, our death (the time we killed) is subtly enacted there.
Cohen shot while travelling throughout Eastern and Western Europe (from Warsaw to Paris), the United States at large (New York, Minneapolis, Saratoga Springs, Los Angeles, Dallas) and even Australia (Melbourne). All the shopping malls, all the franchise stores, all the cheap motels, all the more upscale hotel rooms look similar, there’s no punctum that would allow us to say “Oh, but this is Berlin!” Cohen lays out his shots, meticulously, like a deck of cards, linking them through two loose narratives. Tamiko, a Japanese executive, is sent by her company to the USA to investigate some investment possibility. She first marvels at the amount of open space that is “wasted” in mall architecture. As a financial scandal explodes in Japan, her company stops contacting her. Another kind of drifter, Amanda arrives looking for job (as a maid, a supermarket cleaner, anything) after leaving home and having maxed her working-class mother’s credit card. Homeless and car-less, she stays in motels, recording her thoughts on a video camera she found after a charity event. Here the collage of spaces “cut off” their original (sub)urban surroundings produces an uncanny repetition, triggering a claustrophobic feeling. It is in these generic open spaces that the women (who never meet) feel trapped. The relationship between inside and outside shifts again. Space in a state of mind, and we construct our psyche through the images we are stealing from the world – unless it is the world that steals from us, little by little, to build its own image.
- Jean-Pierre Oudart, “Cinema and Suture”, Screen, vol. 18, no. 4, Winter 1977–1978, p. 36. (First published in Cahiers du cinéma in 1969.)
- See Roland Barthes, Camera Lucinda: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, New York, 1981.
- Interestingly, the French word for “entertainment” is divertissement – as in “to divert one’s attention”.
- This quote and the ones immediately preceding it come from Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, Choses trouvées et choses pensées, Trafic, no. 50, Summer 2004, p. 458, my translation.
- For Lacan, the phallic function is something written negatively. See in particular: “There is no chance for man to have jouissance of a woman’s body, otherwise stated, for him to make love, without castration, in other words without something that says no to the phallic function… It is through the phallic function that man as a whole acquires his inscription, with the proviso that this function is limited due to the existence of [something] by which the phallic function is negated. This is what is known as the father function…” Lacan, Encore – On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972–73, translated by Bruce Fink, Norton, New York and London, 1998, pp. 71–72 and p. 79.
- Phrase used by Amy Hollywood to describe the ambiguity of Lacan’s position vis-à-vis feminist issues. Amy Hollywood, Sensible Ecstasy – Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002, p. 158.
- Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak makes a comparable claim against Jacques Derrida. See in particular Displacement and the Discourse of Woman in Mark Krupnick (ed.), Displacement – Derrida and After, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1983, pp. 169–195.
- After granting independence to its former West African colonies in the early 1960s, the French government set up a Ministère de la Coopération (Ministry of Cooperation) whose “financial and technical support… was serious enough to start in 1963, with the release of Ousmane Sembene’s Borom Sarret, the emergence of Francophone African film, and to catapult the Coopération on top as the biggest producer of African cinema.” Manthia Diawara, African Cinema, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1992, p. 24.
- Georges Bataille (1897–1962), whose mythological dimension, vast literary output and complex thought are still a challenge for most literary critics, was a friend of the Surrealists, and his writings have had a marked influence on the development of Lacan’s thought. Main works: The Story of the Eye (Histoire de l’Oeil) (1928), Madame Edwarda (1937), Inner Experience (L’Expérience intérieure) (1943), Guilty (Le Coupable) (1944), The Accursed Share (La Part Maudite) (1949), Death and Sensuality (L’Erotisme) (1957), L’Abbé C (1959), The Tears of Eros (Les Larmes d’Eros) (1961).
- Georges Bataille, The Tears of Eros (City Lights, San Francisco, 1989, translated by Peter Connor, pp. 205–6).
- The first daguerreotype equipment was brought to Canton in 1844 by the French customs officer Jules Itier, who took a number of pictures – some of them still extant. Between 1868 and 1872, the English photographer John Thomson stayed in China, and, on his way back, published a four-volume book of Illustrations of China and Its People. It seems that, as early as 1874, there were professional Chinese photographers shooting landscapes, buildings or scenes from famous Chinese operas, but mostly taking portraits of their clients in studios. The Lumière cameramen started shooting in China in the mid to late 1890s. In 1896, the first screening of “Electric Shadows” took place in Shanghai. In 1905, the Chinese started to shoot their own newsreels. See Marie-Claire Quiquemelle, The Introduction of the Camera to China, and Lee Daw-ming, How Cinema Came to China: Some Theories and Doubts in Law Kar (ed.), Early Images of Hong Kong and China (catalogue of the 19th Hong Kong International Film Festival), Urban Council, Hong Kong, 1995, pp. 16–19 and pp. 33–36. See also Jay Leyda, Dianying – An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 1972, especially pp. 1–59.
- See in particular The Chinese Revolution (1912), a fictional reconstruction of the 1911 democratic revolution produced by the American Benjamin Brodsky and Scenes of the Chinese Revolution (1926–28), which includes original footage from the Albert Kahn Archives and footage from Gaumont. Both films were shown at the 19th International Hong Kong Film Festival in 1995.
- The first Opium War (1840–42) was started in order to force the Chinese government to buy the opium grown in the British colonies of India. Trying to stop the damages created by opium usage in the Chinese population, the Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu had ordered the burning of British opium in Guangzhou in 1839. The first war ended with the occupation of Hong Kong by Britain, and a series of “unequal treaties” with Western powers that forced China to give up part of her sovereignty, especially in “treaty ports” such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, where the Western powers had concessions. The second Opium War (1856–1860) increased Western encroachment into China.
- Sic. Pinyin wasn’t adopted as a standard form of transcribing Chinese names into the Roman alphabet until the 1970s, and it took even longer for the French to follow suit.
- Bataille, The Tears of Eros, p. 204.
- This quote and the previous one come from Francine Prose, Invitation to a Crucifixion – Fundamentalism Goes to Hollywood, Harper’s Magazine, June 2004, p. 93.
- Lu Xun, “Preface” in Call to Arms, translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, Foreign Language Press, Beijing, 1981, pp. ii-iii. I use the word used by the translators of that edition to describe what Lu Xun was looking at: a “slide”. In Dianying, Jay Leyda reports the same event (p. 13) and uses the word “film” instead, justifying his choice of words by quoting yet another text, Romi Sobolev’s People and Films of Russia’s Pre-Revolutionary Cinema, no publisher mentioned, Moscow, 1961, p. 11: “By the time of the Russo–Japanese War, the number of amateur cameramen in Russia was already considerable… Cameraman P. Kobtsov, for instance, sent Pathé the footage that he took in Manchuria of the execution of the hung-hu [“red-beard”, meaning bandit]….” In the plates reproduced at the end of the volume, Leyda inserts a still “from the Charles Urban catalog of 1904: ‘Execution of Li-Tang, the Chunchus chief of the Manchourian bandits: the only animated picture of a Chinese execution ever taken. Gruesome, but faithfully depicting the actual scene’.” His contention, however, that this was “the newsreel that determined the career of Lu Hsun [sic]” is wrong, for the executioner here is clearly Chinese and not a member of the Japanese army. The slide/newsreel that so impressed Lu Xun is considered lost, which prompted some writers to wonder whether or not the event was a (powerful) literary fiction. For all intent and purpose, the image reproduced by Leyda interests us, because of the proximity and apparent passivity of the onlookers, quite similar to what we see in the picture written about by Bataille and reconstructed by Chen. In Primitive Passions – Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography and Contemporary Chinese Cinema, Columbia University Press, New York, 1995, Rey Chow also uses the word “film” (pp. 4–11).
- Rey Chow, p. 10.
- Rey Chow, pp. 8–9.
- Amy Hollywood, Sensible Ecstasy, p. 89.
- George Bataille, Inner Experience, translated by Leslie Anne Boldt, SUNY Press, Albany, 1988, p. 120).
- See in particular Shigehiko Hisami, in Nostalgie du présent in Jean-Michel Frodon (ed.), Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cahiers du cinéma, Paris, 1999, pp. 48–51 and Bérénice Reynaud, A City of Sadness, BFI, London, 2003, pp. 70–78.
- This insightful remark was uttered by Taiwanese critic Peggy Chiao Hsiung-ping when we saw the film together.
- Amir Muhammad, production notes, reproduced in The 28th Hong Kong International Film Festival catalogue, Hong Kong Arts Development Council, Hong Kong, 2004, p. 39.