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Three Times (Zui Hao De Shi Guang), 1 DVD, 132 minutes
Trois époques, trois couples, deux mêmes comédiens : Hou Hsiao Hsien livre avec "Three Times" trois histoires en une oeuvre intime et envoûtante, où il revisite ses souvenirs personnels ainsi que son propre cinéma, de "Good Men, Good Women" à "Millennium Mambo" en passant par "Les Fleurs de Shanghai".
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Le réalisateur taïwanais Hou Hsiao-Hsien (né en 1942) livre avec "Three times" (2005) un film éblouissant, porté par un exceptionnel duo d'acteurs (Chang Chen et la sublime Shu Qi). Servi par une photographie splendide et une musique toujours bien adaptée aux époques diverses visitées par le cinéaste ainsi qu'aux sentiments des personnages, "Three times" raconte l'histoire - y a-t-il une ou trois histoires ? - d'une "métempsycose amoureuse".
1966 - c'est "le temps de l'amour". Un conscrit engage une relation épistolaire avec une jeune fille rencontrée dans une salle de billard, perd sa trace avant de la retrouver. L'émotion naît du jeu de regards, de la pudeur des personnages, mais aussi de la musique - ainsi du fameux morceau "Rain and Tears" d'Aphodite's Child qui prend aux tripes.
1911 - c'est le "temps de la liberté". Les personnages sont enfermés dans les normes de la société de l'époque. Une courtisane essaie de se marier avec un journaliste, mais celui-ci, alors qu'un vent de révolte souffle sur Taïwan, part continuer son combat politique en Chine. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, pour cette partie du film, fait le choix du muet - d'un muet somptueusement coloré.
2005 - c'est le "temps de la jeunesse", mais surtout de l'errance et du monde moderne où les repères manquent. Jing est partagé entre l'attirance qu'elle a pour un photographe (à la pudeur de 1966 succède la primauté des rapports physiques) et ses sentiments pour sa petite amie. Internet, l'alcool, les discothèques, le chaos urbain : autant d'éléments qui signalent la coupure avec le monde naïf et enchanté des années 1960 (les "meilleurs moments" du réalisateur, qui reconnaît l'aspect autobiographique du récit).
Hsiao-Hsien revisite l'histoire de Taïwan en même temps que son propre cinéma, nous entraîne dans un voyage esthétique à travers des figures de l'amour. C'est une caméra en état de grâce, sensuelle qui guide le spectateur dans ce monde de signes - mots, regards, musique, images. Un coup de coeur !
tenues traditionnelles, CE que l'on ne trouve plus, à ma connaissance dels les films produits en Chine "populaire";
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This is an exquisite movie; it is as beautiful as only a painting by Vermeer can be. It has subtlety of tones, a warm touch, it is deep in nested levels of understanding: a meditation on love and woman condition, on Taiwan history and present, on Hou Hsiao-Hsien's cinematic universe. These levels send signals one another: a world of reflecting mirrors.
1966: in Mainland China it is the Cultural Revolution: youngsters are in the Red Guards, and the country closes itself in terror and absurdity. In Taiwan, though the regime still keeps a firm hand, it's an opening, you breath it in the air: Taiwanese youngsters are in the military getting ready for war, while listening Beatles and dreaming love. During short permissions they hang out in pool parlors and fall for the girls there. Yet they are too shy to speak to the girls, so they send them very polite letters where feelings are suggested by some rhymes from a song, the kind of Rain and Tears,
Rain and tears are the same,
but in the sun
you've got to play the game.
When you cry in winter time,
you can pretend
it's nothing but the rain.
Hey, it's us, the boomers: our portrait of forty or forty-five years ago, our time for love. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the director, is like us a baby-boomer, he was born in 1947. His memories are there, he at twenty years, passionate for billiard, easy falling in love, writing long letters full of rhymes and songs, running during short permissions after the girl of his dreams, finding her, both discovering the magic of love, both too shy to have the courage of a kiss, only looking at each other while sipping tea together.
The purity of young age rendered by the purity of cinematic minimalism. And the great image of the pool table, where the bills are telling their own stories, about strategies of play, about desire to win, and despair to loose. It's an unforgettable image this one of the pool table, and it speaks volumes about the talent of the cameraman Lee Pin-Bing, one of the two or three greatest cinematographers of today.
This is the first vignette of the movie, the Time for Love. Full of warmth and nostalgia. It's Hou at the beginning of his twenties, observed by Hou now in his sixties: his movies from the 1980's come in support, as this vignette is mirroring them. The spirit of The Boys of Fengkuei is floating freely in Time for Love. Most part of the action takes place in the same port-city of Kaohsiung. The Green Grass of Home sends its echoes in Time for Love, along with Hou's very first two movies, Cute Girl and Blind of Love. A cineast thinks at the epoch of his youth through his own language of cinematic structures.
From the memories of our youth we travel back in time, down to 1911.
In Mainland China the Time for Freedom has arrived. It's the Wuchang Uprising, leading to the Revolution that would put down the Empire and proclaim the Republic. Meanwhile Taiwan is under Japanese rule: it just started, in 1895.
The young intellectuals dream of freedom and write patriotic poems and passionate columns in newspapers. A young woman, courtesan in a luxurious brothel, falls in love for one of these intellectuals and hopes he would take her out. He is too absorbed by his dreams for Taiwan to notice her own desire. She's still hoping ... after some months a letter comes: he is now in Shanghai, taking part at the Chinese Revolution. Her tears are discreet, the rules are very formal there. Capable of conveying such intensity with so much restraint: it is in this vignette, Time for Freedom, that I had the revelation what a great actress is Shu Qi.
Another masterpiece of Hou comes in mind: Flowers of Shanghai. But, not only that one: Dust in the Wind tells a love story destroyed by indifferent times; and all his movies from the 1990's (The Puppetmaster for instance, or A City of Sadness) find somehow in this vignette their starting point, because Time for Freedom is situated in the point of departure for modern Taiwan's history, that 1911 when in Mainland China the Revolution was proclaiming the Republic, while in Taiwan, independence as well as woman dignity were still dreams.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien decided to make this vignette in a silent movie format. He had some reasons: first of all, the Taiwanese dialect spoken by 1911 would have been incomprehensible for today's Chinese viewers (as full as it was of archaic regionalisms amalgamated with Japanese words). There was also another reason, I think: the ascetic restraint that Hou used for this vignette, to avoid any cheap pathetic. The story is running in a brothel, yet it is of great distinction. One more note only would have spoiled the whole.
From 1911 we travel forward, up to our time. The third vignette is taking place in 2005. Despite their radical differences, Mainland China and Taiwan are now in many ways in sync: similar values shared by common people; similar look and feel in the cities; not too distant approaches in the economics. The most obvious similarity is in the youth's behavior: they are at last their own masters.
The plot in this vignette (Time for Youth) seems chaotic. The old way of sending elaborate love letters is now superfluous, as we have eMail and SMS: you can express yourself directly and get what you want. He works in a digital photographic shop. During the day he runs on his motorcycle on the highways of Taipei (the guy from 1966 was using a bicycle, by the way). She sings in underground clubs, where he spends his nights to take shots. They meet by chance and make passionate sex the following day. He is torn between her and his own girlfriend. She is a bisexual, torn between him and her own female partner.
Actually in all this hectic amalgam of digital photos, techno music, night life, sex and sexual orientation, rides on motorcycle, rapid conversation on SMS, there is something that they are doing while being unaware of it: a search for a sense. Now the country found its identity, its sense, and they are free of any restraint. It is time for them to discover their own selves.
And here comes another great image created by the cameraman Lee Pin-Bing in plays of mirrors and ambiguous identities.
Of course, Millennium Mambo comes in mind immediately, for all the fans of Hou's movies (it is also the same actress, Shu Qi). But, as in the second vignette, there's not only one movie echoed here. This chaotic universe is also in Goodbye, South, Goodbye, and in the contemporary sequences of Good Men, Good Women as well.
Many critics of Hou's movies consider that he is very skeptical about the young generation. I don't think so.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien has actually a special empathy for these young people on the brink. For him, I think, the mundane is the best way to understand the present; maybe because mundane is devoid of any rhetoric.
The lack of horizon is not their fault. It is life that offers no horizons. At the end of Millennium Mambo, Vicky (the personage interpreted by Shu Qi) realizes that we live in the country of snowmen: we built our dreams in the snow, unaware that they will melt down.
Living in a perpetual carpe diem is just natural: the lead female character from Time for Youth suffers from epilepsy, along with all kind of other health issues (it seems that Hou depicted here the real case of a young singer who eventually died; it is anyway a symbol for the fragility of our times). An SMS from her says, there is no past, no future, only a hungry present.
So, arriving at the end of this movie, it is like we arrive at the end of history, just to realize that history was just an illusion.
So, what is Three Times about? Is it about love in various moments of history? Or is it more about history itself? And why don't the three episodes come chronologically?
Actually Three Times is a reflection of Hou Hsiao-Hsien on his own movies, and through them on his own life. He made his movies to answer his questions: the answers and the questions of his generation, of my generation.
When I started to read about Hou Hsiao-Hsien, before watching any of his movies, only reading about them, I was asking myself what I was looking for. Was I in quest for his answers to discover through them my own answers? The answers of my generation? Of my time?
And with each of his movies, I was realizing that he was making them just to understand, to find the answer, or to free himself of some too overwhelming inner truth.
As a young man, he was trying to find the answer for questions put by mother nature. Does she love me? Does he love me? What is love?
As years were passing, other questions became obvious. He was realizing more and more that his search was for identity. To find it you need a larger context: the space of history.
And years kept on passing, a new generation came to the age of love, and then another one, and he realized that the answer had to be found through them. Was it love? Well, love looked very different now. Was it history? Well, the past was of no more interest.
What was the aim of their search (even if they were not aware)? And he realized that they were looking for a sense: for that particular moment, essential in their lives.
Aisareru isshun ga watashi no subete ni naru: the moment you feel that you are loved is a kernel that grasps all your life (I looked a lot to find the translation, it came from a friend, Mr.Larsen).
Three Times: the correct translation from Chinese is The Best Times. The time you feel that it grasps everything, it explains all. Is it to be found by you? In love? In history? In the future?
And here's what he found: we live in the country of snowmen; so times of our life and times of history are just snowmen, nothing more.
Both actors are splendid, and play three entirely different roles perfectly.
The director was new to me, and I now understand Roger Ebert's passion for his work.
Warning for some viewers: the pace of all three segments is quite slow -- these are three short films to savor -- patience will be rewarded in memory.
Robert C. Ross
The first part (A Time for Love) is a tender and utterly charming vignette about the pursuit of love set in 1966 Taiwan. Chen is a soldier who periodically returns to a pool hall to see the attendant there (Qi). The second part (A Time for Freedom) is a silent movie set in a brothel during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The third part (A Time for Youth) is set in present day Taipei and involves a love triangle between Qi, her female lover, and Chang. It is a sad and bleak vision of love to say the least.
The titles sum up each story as we have love that blooms in the first title but suffers under the sexual inequality of one era and the self-absorbed and nihilistic inherencies of another. All three pieces are short on dialogue and thus demand much of the viewer to observe and interpret.
Qi is good throughout; sweet and shy, graceful and demure, or angst-ridden and self-destructive. Chen is given a bit less to work with, but he does a good job as the love interest, especially in the first part.
It's hard to distinguish where my personal feelings of love start and where the stark yet genuine treatment of love from three different stories ends. I would say that there are times in my life when I would prefer each one. To that end, love as portrayed in Three Times starts out with great promise and hope, runs into obstacles, and then turns sour and dies. Furthermore, after such a wonderful beginning, it's fair to say that the movie leaves the viewer wanting so much more and feeling disappointed and cheated. Perhaps that is Hsien's intended commentary about love as a whole. I hope he's wrong.
One theme that this director returns to is Taiwan's identity crisis, first as a Japanese protectorate, and then, as a landing base for the Nationalists (who lost the Civil War against the Communists in China.) The Nationalists took the remnants of their army and declared martial law in Taiwan, which was a huge social, linguistic, and financial upheaval to those already living on the island.
The three films show Taiwan in three different periods, with three sets of lovers (played by the same two actors). Each film is beautifully shot, and well-acted by the two leads, who are very intense, especially in the first two films. The third film loses some of the momentum, though, but perhaps that is fitting as it is about the confusion of Taiwan's youth (and the conundrum of Taiwanese national identity.)
Chang Chen, whom you may have seen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Interest (as Jen's love interest), is brilliant and intense here.
Shu Qi, who's often underrated (and has not always chosen the best material), is luminous and does not over- or under-act here. She does an amazing job in the second film, relying primarily on body language to communicate her despair.
The first film is lovely and romantic, but may also be interesting to language buffs, as some of the dialogue is in Taiwanese, which (like Cantonese, is a "Sinosphere" language, but a distinct language. Mandarin speakers will find most Taiwanese unintelligible unless they learn the language separately.)