What Time Is It There?

What Time Is It There? ★★★★★

A ghost story long before it literally becomes one, grief and romantic longing and emotional ennui as echoes of one another, ways of being haunted by some absent presence. The way Hsiao-kang doesn’t seem to be affected much by his initial, transactional encounter with Shiang-chyi until she comes back and offers him her cake; as if this small, inexplicable gesture is what truly touches him, left staring after she goes at all that might be between them but won’t. His mother’s own longing stare at their apartment’s giant white fish in its aquarium, desperately wanting to know if her dead husband’s spirit is inside of it. “It’s so hard. Do you miss me?” Shiang-chyi’s lonely travels in Paris are themselves haunted the way traveling often is; haunted by the images of foreign places you thought were more real than their actual reality, experiences that seemed more fulfilling in potential rather than actuality.* When she encounters Léaud in a cemetery, he asks what she’s doing as she frantically digs through her handbag. “Looking for a phone number,” she says, an absence whose challenge he takes beautifully literally, giving her his own as if any number will do. A trio of disappointing sex scenes suggest, of course, that any body sometimes won’t actually do; they each get the one that’s here, but are left still wanting the one that’s somewhere else, in another time zone. The exquisitely staged climax suggests that the one you’re looking for is indeed out there, on some other temporal wavelength; you’re never going to be there yourself, but the fact they’re out there must at least be some small consolation enough for being stuck on your own where you are.

*For the eighteen years since I’ve first seen this, whenever I’m traveling by myself, especially in a place where I don’t speak the language, I think of her sitting alone in her hotel room, eating cookies and bananas after feeling too awkward trying to order in a restaurant (mostly I think about this while sitting alone in hotel rooms, eating cookies and bananas).

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