What Time Is It There?

What Time Is It There? ★★★★★

[35mm film]
[ACMI Cinemas Melbourne Cinematheque]

One Day at a Time: The Cinema of Tsai Ming-Liang

Humans are like strange shadows going off in different directions but never seem to find any sort of relief, which is what we saw through our three main characters in What Time Is It There?, psychologically imprisoned by mourning and alienation. Tsai Ming-Liang crafts one hell of an emotional experience of time, quietness, and loneliness. I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful static compositions in Tsai’s films. With melancholic cinematography by Benoit Delhomme, its use of empty space to depict the loneliness of the characters in the frame was truly thoughtful and the practical lighting used in interior locations through uses of colour and shadows had such an emotional impact on me. As soon as we were introduced to characters living their mundane lives, I found myself consistently amused with each static framing and as the film kept going, the shots became more powerful towards the end. There is so much artistic brilliance with the vast amount of depth that has been put into these static compositions, you’ll definitely find yourself already feeling lost and aimless through the notion of stillness. Now I finally understand Tsai’s style of slow cinema.

The passage of time can be one of the most sorrowful cinematic expressions, and how they link our three characters is irresistibly poetic. Through time, you are met by a brief glance with a stranger whose watch you’re trying to buy off at a stall before you leave Taipei. Through time, your obsession with watches and clocks triggered your urge to bring one into the cinemas and still walk away with an awkward experience. Through time, you yearn to remember the departed so much, you desperately cook up a storm with comfortable delicious-looking dishes for a moody dinner at midnight. Through time, it echoes depression and the need for human connection has never seemed so haunting, as pointless conversations are turned into brooding sexual pleasures. At the start when I mentioned how the characters are unable to find any sort of relief, time simply never seems to let you sleep in peace. A spiritual final shot, that seems to put everything to bed, is a teleporting cinematic gesture of warmth and escapism.

A wonderful experience to have seen Tsai’s enigmatic masterpiece on 35mm print. I don’t believe there’s going to be a film of his that will match What Time Is It There? on a personal and emotional level. How it steadily moulds time, grief and longing within every single frame of that reel is truly perfect. A pleasant ode to one of my favourite pictures ever, Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, was a magical dream come true (and what a random cameo appearance too). I can definitely feel a strong sensation of vulnerability and innocence as I saw Hsiao-Kang watch the adventures of Antoine Doinel through the VCR tape. Time always seems to be moving too quick but whenever I watch The 400 Blows, the world always feels at ease for some reason regardless of whatever time zone you’re at. I’m so grateful Tsai Ming-Liang probably feels the same way!

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