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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Walker First Look presents ƒ?oeThree Timesƒ??

By Peter Valelly

This past weekend the Walker Art Center screened “Three Times” by Taiwanese cinema master Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Hsiao-Hsien’s formidable reputation, built on widely praised films like 1989’s “City of Sadness,” precedes him and “Three Times” is certainly a worthy addition to his catalogue. It engages a number of interesting contradictions that exist within the medium of film while essentially remaining an appealing and tender, if not entirely conventional, document of romantic love.

The film consists of three parts, set several decades apart from one another. Each chronicles a love story, or something like one, in which the man and woman are played by the same actor and actress (Chen Chang and Qi Shu, respectively). In the film’s first segment, set in 1966, a pool hall girl receives letters from a young soldier who eventually must report to duty. As the film’s simplest, loveliest, and most starkly emotional part, it is no surprise that this story is entitled “A Time for Love.” The film then backtracks to 1911 to document a complicated morality play charged by Taiwan’s historical and political contexts. This portion, called “A Time for Freedom,” is rendered as a silent film, complete with dialogue cards. Despite its fairly intricate plot elements, the story seems immaterial to the overall importance of this part of the film, relying as it does on the dreamlike synchronicity of its beautiful visuals and endlessly repetitive musical accompaniment. In its final portion, set in 2005, the film’s formal properties become as disconnected and apathetic as the big-city “love story” it documents. This final act’s title, “A Time for Youth,” seems to be a bitingly ironic indictment of its central characters.

Throughout these different parts, Hsiao-Hsien employs a number of ideas to expand the scope of the film. His use of repetition, both of actions and dialogue as well as shot composition, seems to accent the central paradox of film: its need to capture broad, possibly infinite realities within specific moments. Also, Hsiao-Hsien has placed the different stories out of their historical order while maintaining a narrative flow. That is to say that as the film moves from 1966 to 1911 to 2005, the complexities both of the film’s story and of its cinematic elements become more and more pronounced. By doing this, Hsiao-Hsien disrupts, in a way, our understanding of the twentieth century; in the collective consciousness, 1966 hardly seems the simplest and most plainly romantic of the three eras in question, and yet this is how the film presents it to us.

These more complex elements aside, the film is quite a pleasant viewing experience. The first and last portions of the film are deeply engaging and interesting as well as beautifully shot. The middle portion, to be honest, might put you to sleep, as it did at least one person in the audience at the Walker, but this may be part of its ‘success’ within the context of the film. It is excellently acted and directed, and comes highly recommended. That said, it might be kind of hard to come by now that it’s not showing at the Walker anymore. Its U.S. screenings have taken place almost entirely at film festivals but perhaps it will receive a wider theatrical or DVD release soon; keep an eye out.

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