Tag Archives: Cannes

Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

ImageYi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

Director: Edward Yang

Writer: Edward Yang

Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang

Runtime: 173 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Edward Yang’s last and probably most widely-recognized film is one of great and subtle beauty.  It’s a film that not everybody will love, but one that has to be experienced because of the sheer number of small, elegant, beautiful moments contained within.  Yi Yi is about family and about everyday life.  The story revolves around a very conventional Taipei family, namely a father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu) who is unhappy with his job, and seemingly his life, his young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who is having trouble at school and who is being picked on by both his teacher and the girls in his class, and his daughter Tiny-Ting (Kelly Lee) who becomes intertwined in a love triangle involving her best friend, and her friend’s boyfriend.  After NJ’s mother-in-law goes into a coma following a stroke, his wife Min-Min leaves for a Buddhist retreat after experiencing a mid-life crisis, leaving NJ and his children to take care of their grandmother.  An old flame of NJ’s, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko) returns to the city and tries to come into his life after thirty years apart, leaving NJ even more confused about where his life is going.  The story also explores the life of NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di, who is married at the beginning of the film.  Edward Yang’s sensitive and Ozu-esque direction makes what could be an impossibly confusing multi-character story very easy to follow, flowing almost perfectly at times.

Yi Yi won the Best Director award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason.  ImageEdward Yang’s camera is mostly still throughout the film, but manages to capture so many amazingly small moments through the movie’s 3-hour runtime.  The direction is very similar to that of Yasujiro Ozu‘s (a famous Japanese director whose career spanned nearly four decades between the 1930’s-1960’s) in that both filmmakers are able to capture the true beauty of day-to-day life.  The film moves at its own pace, which may turn off viewers who aren’t quite used to this style of filmmaking.  This is truly a film that you let play out in front of you, one that you must experience and take in very slowly.  Yi Yi isn’t a film that you immediately adore, but rather one that you come to appreciate and love after wrestling with its themes and images and pacing.  I will admit that I wasn’t immediately sold on the film after my initial viewing of it.  It’s pacing and length definitely hurt the end product for me, as did the fact that this is a film where you must work for any sort of reward.

There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end of Yi Yi, especially concerning the characters of Yang-Yang, Ting-Ting, and A-Di.  The film explores their day-to-day lives with such precision Imageand detail, and then essentially drops them in the last 30 minutes of the movie.  Yi Yi isn’t about giving the audience answers, or exploring what happens to these characters after the events take place, but rather about exploring the wins and losses that everybody experiences in their daily lives.  The big and small moments that happen to us every single day of our lives is what Edward Yang is trying to cover with his film, and he is very successful in this exploration.  Family dynamics, love, heartbreak, and death are all things that every human being has to go through at some point in their lives, and Yang makes every minute look beautiful and memorable.  8/10.

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Dancer in the Dark (2000)

ImageDancer in the Dark (2000)

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

Runtime: 140 minutes

Rating: 68% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Dancer in the Dark is a film I’ve heard a lot about over my years of being an avid movie-goer.  I’ve heard it compared to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, I’ve heard it praised as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, and I’ve heard others disregard it as being art-house trash. Whatever Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is, it’s an incredibly original and fresh film, and a powerful one at that.  The film follows Selma Jezkova (played by pop diva Bjork), a young single mother who has recently located to from Central Europe to America in hopes of a new, fresh start.  Selma is plagued by a disease that will eventually (within the runtime of the film) permanently rob her of her eyesight.  Since the disease is hereditary, her young son will someday have to face the disease too, unless Selma can gain the money for the boy’s operation.  Selma takes a job at a local factory, and comes to learn that her new start in America may not be everything she was hoping for.  She copes with this realization by disconnecting herself from reality, and with her near-obsession of Hollywood musicals.

Bjork’s Selma Jezkova is both a beacon of hope because of her golden heart, and a devastatinglyImage flawed main character.  Her disconnection from any sort of reality is flawlessly pulled off by non-actor Bjork, who gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on-screen.  Selma’s interest in musical films adds so much more to this disconnection because she expects her life to play out like a Singin’ in the Rain or Sound of Music-esque film.  When things get difficult or stressful in any way for Selma, she imagines everybody surrounding her to begin bursting out in song and dance.  Unfortunately for Selma, her naivety and desperation to save her young son gets her into the worst situation one can possibly get into, and things get very bleak for the young woman.  Bjork’s portrayal of Selma Jezkova earned her the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been universally praised by critics worldwide for good reason.

Von Trier’s exceptional direction makes Dancer in the Dark a near-perfect film in a lot of ways.  The performances of the supporting cast are nearly as good as Bjork’s.  Catherine Deneuve plays Kathy, Selma’s closest friend, David Morse plays Bill, a man who shares financial and marital secrets with Selma, who also confides in it, and Peter Stormare plays Jeff, a love interest of sorts for Selma.  The interactions between Selma and these characters are perfect in almost every scene.  One thing I didn’t know about before going into the film is that Dancer in the Dark is actually a musical (or anti-musical) of sorts.  There are expertly shot song and dance sequences that give the film a sense of magic, and really helped the flow of the film.  The main sequence “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars that year, with good reason.  Hours after completing the film, I had the soundtrack on my iPod, that alone is a testament to how great (even if slightly ironic) the songs in this film are.  Had the film not contained these musical numbers, Dancer in the Dark might have been a much slower, much less interesting film.

Dancer in the Dark is truly one of Lars von Trier’s best films yet, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen from the early 2000’s.  It’s a bleak, dark, and powerful film with elements of the fantastic, and von Trier’s excellent direction and Bjork’s phenomenal performance makes this a film I believe every fan of dramatic cinema should see.  9.5/10.

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