The Best Films of the Decade: #8 02/21/2010
The first decade of our young century has come to a close. During that time the world around us has changed rapidly, and cinema has changed with it. Mainstream filmmaking continues to go down a dark path, moving ever closer to an event-style industry with no perception of "art". Meanwhile the cinema is ennobled all over the world by artists who reject or beat the studio system. As strong as ever, if you look in the right places, the art form thrives. For the next 10 days, I'll be counting down the 10 greatest films of the decade...
Directed by Edward Yang
Some films are somehow able to present life in such a complete and authentic way that to watch them is to live. Yi Yi is one of those films. Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 59, was able to penetrate the spirit, the joy, and the sorrow of living by following a family in crisis, not melodramatic crisis mind you but just good-old everyday crisis, and examining them in such a way so as to paint an incredibly broad portrait of human nature. The story begins with a wedding and ends with a funeral, and were it told by someone else, it would certainly be overplayed. Yang, however, unfolds the drama in such a restrained way that it not only avoids being overheated but also refuses to manipulate the audience. Emphasis is rarely put on any of the sequences and his camera often hangs back, allowing us to simply observe, uninterrupted by close-ups or tricky editing. In fact, there is one scene where a character has a deck of playing cards and is doing the old "pick a card, any card" trick with the protagonist, a potential business partner. He succeeds in guessing his card but insists it wasn't a trick, he has just been able to memorize where every card is at all times. Of course, this entire scene takes place in one shot, Yang himself using no tricks.
The film feels like a lament for a world that has forgotten what is important; concerned not with family, relationships or respect but with globalization, routines and success. While it is tragic that Edward Yang died, I cannot think of a better parting gift, a larger final statement or a better magnum opus to go out on than Yi Yi. During its running time there is so much wisdom displayed in each fleeting moment it almost becomes overwhelming. Yang tells a sprawling, yet somehow modest story while using the frame to visually and dramatically express his ideas without ever becoming preachy or stilted. Yi Yi examines the space around us, the perspectives we miss out on, and thus provides us with invaluable riches.