2003, Movies

Café Lumière (2003, Hsiao-Hsien Hou)

This is the first film of Hsiao-Hsien’s I’ve ever seen but I have seen a few of Ozu’s, and this film is a tribute to Ozu. I don’t always love Ozu – apparently my ADD is too much for him much of the – so I think that my feelings towards Ozu’s type of filmmaking likely inform how I feel about Café Lumière, a film which some consider a masterpiece.

Look up “understated” in the dictionary and they might use the poster for this movie. There is a place for understatement in the film industry, especially in our comic book movie era, which understatement is the furthest thing from the mind of the average American movie producer. But some non-English films from around the world skew really, really far in the other direction, such a film is Café Lumière.

There’s a plot and there is character development but everything is sparse, rather silent (no soundtrack until the final shot) and people don’t really show emotion (as you might expect for a film set in Japan). When they do show emotion it is, well, understated. Sometimes I really appreciate understated acting (though I do like scene-chewing on occasion as well) but sometimes I struggle with understated acting, especially when everyone in the film is doing it, and especially in films in languages other than English, when you can’t necessarily trust the subtitles. I think I can trust the subtitles here, but I find the performances perhaps a titch too far along the spectrum to be compelling enough for me.

But this is a tribute to another filmmaker and, as such, I think it’s pretty successful. Certainly it helps to have seen a few Ozu films, or to really like deliberately paced, understated films about life crises, to really appreciate the film, which is a drawback. But as an Ozu tribute that isn’t an outright remake or re-imagining of any of his movies, it’s hard to fault it.

I just have trouble getting excited about something like this. It doesn’t move me like it moves other people. Ah well.


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