Friday, September 17, 2004

Toronto Film Festival--"Cafe Lumiere"

Great films from all over--they keep rolling in.

If I had to choose my one favorite film director working anywhere in the world today, without hesitation I'd pick the Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Hou is scandalously unknown to most moviegoers in America and until recently, none of his films were available on DVD here. But what I find odd about it is that his films are not particularly inaccessible or difficult. One of his best, Flowers Of Shanghai, tells the engaging story of an 18th. century Shanghai brothel with knockout visual sumptuousness. Its mysteries are many but forbidding or opaque the movie is not.

I was a bit nervous approaching his new film, Cafe Lumiere, because it came with the advance news that it was a tribute to Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. What's more, it is a Japanese-language film shot in Japan and not in his native Taiwan. I was dreading an imitation-Ozu movie, a starry-eyed homage, no more.

Not to worry. The film is solid, signature Hou all the way--long, observational takes; wonderfully meditative pacing; and sweetly unpredictable transitions.

The experience of watching a Hou film does a funny thing to your mind and body. It slows your rhythms right down, and chills you out--not in a narcotic or somnolent fashion, but in a way that sharpens your attention, pulling you deep into the depths of the movie screen.

Cafe Lumiere is about a young woman who finds out that she is pregnant, and decides to the silent consternation of her parents that that she will be raising the child on her own. Ozu-style, they travel to Tokyo to see and counsel her. At dinner, not everything goes according to plan.

Meanwhile, trains course through the metropolis, passing each other, criss-crossing, never stopping. And life goes on.