Feature: Two Haunting Short Films
A small critical appraisal of French-Taiwanese Director Pang-Chuan Huang's reflections on the passage of time.
Mubi.com is one of my favorite streaming channels. It comes stock full of World Cinema classics and obscure films that, perhaps, will not be available elsewhere.
This month, they are screening two shorts by a young Taiwanese director Pang-Chuan Huang.
As the trailers below will attest, they are both cut from the same visual and thematic fabric.
While the first one is made exclusively through photographs, the second tweaks this style a little by including some live footage too. But both use the same vintage, scratchy filter to indicate time's slithery nature.
No wonder he's a fan of Godard's La Jetée.
Both films are in French.
The first of these is Retour (Return, 2017), in which Huang documents his return to his hometown Xiamen from France. In approximately 20 mt. running time, the film, through photographs, inside and through the train that our narrator has taken, catalogs this long journey. The intention of the photographs through the window are not to show us the picturesqueness of the locations but to present travel as a metaphor for the passage of time. This makes both the films about time-travel in nature. A sci-fi without the science.
Through this journey, Huang also travels back in time to tell his grandfather's history. His travel to France, his time in war and his poignant relationship with the home that he had left behind as a child. Huang is aware of the parallels between his grandfather's and his own story. He says that that his grandfather had to spend forty years before he could ever see his family again.
Will Huang be more successful with his return?
The second film titled L'An dernier quand le train passait ("Last year when the train passed by", 2018) is simpler but, in my opinion, the idea is even more eloquent of its subject matter. But it does not have the density of the previous one and its potential seems unrealized.
The idea is simple. A year after Huang took photographs of some houses in rural Taiwan through a moving train, he visits those houses and asks them "What were they doing when the train passed by?"
The only thing common between the subjects interviewed besides their ecosystem is that they do not remember what exactly they were doing at that exact moment. Don't worry, Chuang seems to say, I have that instant captured for you. But can one really grasp time? One man has lost his wife, one has survived stroke and in one case an entire family has disappeared.
It also presents a tiny picture of Taiwanese rural society. All the children have moved away and the old men survive on memories and friends while they wait for their time.
The idea itself is moving, but Huang's focus is more on what layers of filters he can lay on his subjects rather than the subjects themselves. Its poignancy is undercut by dreamy interventions. Still, it offers a unique experience and the sound design is excellent. The background score by Taiwanese musician Lim Giong is appropriately spectral.
Together both films are thought-provoking and beautiful to watch.
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