What Time Is It There?

What Time Is It There? ★★★★

There is an underlying oddness to this film, with its characters behaving weirdly and its obsession with time (though that much seems familiar from Wong Kar-wai films with missed connections and chance encounters and their own take on the ellipses of time), but the more you get into its strange rhythms, the more it becomes clear that these behaviours are related to a profound feeling of loss. Hsiao-Kang, a familiar character from Tsai's films played by his partner and most frequent collaborator Lee Kang-sheng, loses his father at the start of the film, which triggers his mother off in a series of desperate attempts to conjure him back into their life, attempts that are so clearly bound to the feeling of being bereft that it has a deeply felt pathos to it. Hsiao-Kang himself latches onto a young woman who buys a watch from him on a skywalk in Taipei on her way to France, such that he himself tries to turn back time by changing all the clocks to reflect French time. She meanwhile finds herself searching for some kind of connection while in exile, which leads both to the film's emotionally disconnected core (a three-part love scene bringing all the central characters together, sort of), and to a scene where she meets Jean-Pierre Léaud on a bench in a cemetery, communing -- whether literally or metaphorically -- with another lost father figure, that of François Truffaut (whose The 400 Blows Hsiao-Kang is seen watching). There are a lot of these strands to the film, combined with Tsai's typically slow filmmaking style, which can make the film seem rather forbidding in the way it moves, but it has a real emotional heft to it.

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