Yi Yi

LetterboxD review link

Last June, AO Scott and Manhola Dargis of the NYTimes named their top 25 films of the 21st century. Yi Yi was one of the films on their list that I hadn’t seen and until they brought it up, didn’t even know about. I finally caught up with it this weekend, and it lived up to my high expectations.

Like the Apu Trilogy did for the 20th century, Yi Yi captures something true and universal about modern family life in a connected, globalized, neoliberal world. This middle class Taiwanese family reminded me of my family in India. And my family in the US. And families I’ve known, with a similar station in life, throughout the world. If I were teaching a class about modernity, and its discontents, I would add this film to the syllabus.

In addition to the overall pleasurable experience of spending 3 hours with these characters, in these cities, I appreciated all the details and small choices in Yang’s filmmaking. The frames within frames, still cameras, lighting and color, use of reflections and windows in moments of tension, concealing faces in hyper emotional moments (only to frame some faces centrally, highlighting emotionality through contrast), and the difficult, dialectic questions that his characters bring up and leave unanswered – all of this made for an engaging run time. The plot felt much less like it was folding out to tell a story rather than reading a novel in which I got to inhabit the world of its characters and see the story unfold, pauses, breaks and all.