What Time Is It There?

What Time Is It There? ★★★★★

When you are in love, you involuntarily adjust your internal clock to that of the other person. Suddenly you start thinking with her head, worrying about her, reading her favorite books, watching her movies, sharing your space, your time. You become generous, you step out of your compulsive schedule, you suspend your own time. In a good case, she does the same, and you meet in an in-between time zone that is just yours.

In Tsai's film, young Lee Kang-sheng is selling watches on a skywalk when he meets the love of his life. He sets his watch to hers, and she travels to Paris, Truffaut's city. The two can no longer meet in real time, they remain prisoners of their maddening loneliness, and yet, though they are separated by interpersonal jetlag, their time is touched by each other. In Tsai's wonderfully layered, intricately metaphorical film, signs, slips and coincidences multiply. Objects and motifs wander through time, separating and connecting these two people who are barely aware of their love: mourning loved ones lost and undiscovered in a blur of unrecognized things.

In Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, there is scene of which, I think, Tsai’s film is the metonymy as Lee Kang-sheng is the metonymy of Pierre Léaud. I venture as far as to propose that Tsai expanded this scene into the film; when in his twenties working in the national film archives of Taipei Tsai first saw a Truffaut in a retrospective series, he recognized the missing father, the spirit of the father as he would mention almost in every interview later. In The 400 Blows Léaud, as Truffaut’s alter ego suffers series of disappointments and with his responses to them he practically spins himself out of society like with the gravitron, to the horizon of nothingness, the limitless sea from where there is nowhere to escape. He has a single positive emotional impact, the joy of a friendship with another little boy who offers the most hidden room in their enormous apartment as refuge to Léaud who escaped from home, where he could live as if he were a ghost, almost unnoticed by the negligent wealthy father. This motif appears in one of Tsai’s early films, Vive l’amour! In The 400 Blow there is a scene of a breakfast when the son steals some food from his father’s table for Léaud hiding in the neighbouring room, but previously he set the clock to an earlier time so that the father runs off agitated, he sets the clock back to the right time. They can meet in the jetlag of the of time (“out of joint”), which is the time of the two boys’ friendship. Similarly to Lee who sets all the watches in Taipei to Paris time when his love whom he has seen but once has left for Paris. And there is another, unnoticed ghostly motif that finds a corridor from Truffaut’s film into Tsai’s: the two boys stealing a round-faced alarm clock from a public toilet. The stolen clock oozed from Léaud’s hand into Lee’s hand who, having stolen it from the wall, holds it tight in the darkness of the cinema while he watches a French film, then the clock gets back somewhat perverted to the satyr, to the public toilet. Lee and Léaud, Tsai and Truffaut exchange watches, chronometers of love: The two clocks that appear in two different films, are however, not the same, there is some difference between them. And this discrepancy is somehow life itself, compared to the exceptional time of love.

A recurring, haunting motif in Tsai's films is that people live as ghosts in each other's presence, while their emotions are very real. That is why this film is a wonderful romantic love story, even though nothing happens in it. The clocks could not align, yet in the gap of time and space divergence, sacred moments, and gestures blossom into beautiful flowers.

My first academic paper on Tsai Ming-liang's and Truffaut's cinema is out now:

#ChangeProfession ⏰ :)

Block or Report

mcsil liked these reviews