Official Artist
Kenji Lui
Director , Producer , Screenwriter
532,891 views| 228  Posts

Cafe Lumiere - The Eastern approach

Cafe Lumiere, one of my favorite movies in the last few years. It is definitely not an easy film to grasp, a lot of my friends couldn't even finish it, and some are totally baffled and don't know what the director wants to convey.

What I think is that, it may not be an excellent film, but then it is certainly not as difficult to understand as it looks like.

Some comment Ozu as the most "Japanese" of the japanese director, and Hou Hsiao-hsien as the most "Chinese". It is quite true to the extent that both of their films are very different from Western (e.g Hollywood) films in terms of their cinematic language and aesthetic.

Anyone who is familiar with Hou's films should notice that Hou has been endlessly exploring a kind of cinematic language that he assumes fit the way Chinese people convey their emotions. Since his early films like "Boys from Fengkuai" and some others, he has been formulating his style with this goal in mind.

If you realize his filmmaking goal, then perhaps you'd find that Cafe Lumiere isn't any nonsense piece (I heard when I first premiered at a fest, even the judges said they dunno whats going on...), but in fact a very fine example that demonstrates his cinematic language well.

Just like traditional Chinese art (e.g. poem, painting, etc...) what an aritist cares most is not the narrative, but the mood, the emotions, the intergration of the human and the environment. If you read a Chinese poem, you may notice that most of them don't describe a scene or an action in a concrete way, but rather loves to use metaphors or other objects to signify the emotions. The same goes for painting as well, realism is not the goal, what an artist cares is whether he can capture the essence or the 神態 of his subject matter. 

That's why in a film like Cafe Lumiere, the narrative is so loose that there doesn't seem to be anything going on. It is because starting from the beginning, storytelling is never the objective of the filmmaker. It is like a total opposite of the West in which the common belief is that a story needs to have conflicts.

In Cafe Lumiere, there is no story, no conflict, no drama, what Hou cares most is the mood. We always see the protagonist Yo Hitoto wandering around here and there, we never know what exactly she wants to do. But somehow through those very fragmented interactions scenes (Yo with her friend Asano and her parents), and the interaction between the character and the environment, Hou just lets the emotions flow freely without any constraint. It is not about the narrative, but about the flow. of the emotions.

The lack of the narrative elements is what Chinese called "liu bai" (leaving it blank), which is a common technique in Chinese landscape painting. In that way, the artist invites the viewers to join in the environment of the diegesis and interacts.

I think it is quite a challenging way for both the artist and the viewer, as the artist has to fight off the temptation of storytelling (its not easy as we think it is!), and the viewer also has to totally release and allow himself to be totally absorbed to the film...nevertheless, cinema is a rather spiritual experience afterall, if it succeeds in serving the purpose of emotional fulfillment, why care too much? (certainly, providing that you can open your mind to forget the common belief that a story must have a beginning, climax and end...)

about 17 years ago 0 likes  0 comment  0 shares


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Languages Spoken
english, cantonese, mandarin
Location (City, Country)
San francisco, United States
Member Since
May 14, 2007