The Boys from Fengkuei (Hou Hsiao-hsien / Taiwan, 1983):
(Feng gui lai de ren; All the Youthful Days)

The I Vitelloni beachfront makes an appearance but the chief kinship is with Ozuís early college comedies, "all the youthful days" as an affectionate, exasperating anagram of experience and remembrance. Fengkuei is a backwater village recalled in pearly tones: the elderly scorekeeper at the pool hall can no longer see the billiard balls, the patriarch rests placidly with a dented forehead, a veritable armada of fishing boats line the undulating horizon. Teenagers vegetate and scuffle; on a particularly productive day the boys take time off from brawling with rival gangs to sneak into an English-dubbed screening of Rocco and His Brothers. Life in the larger city of Kaohsiung is suddenly rapid and noisy and full of vacant spaces, new family members turn up unannounced and letters inform of dead ones. Between factory work and looming military service, the pensive loner (Doze Niu) bashfully falls for his shady neighborís mistress (Lin Hsiao-ling). Finding a bug flattened between the pages of his notebook, heís struck by a sepia recollection of a serpent in a baseball field. "How can you remember so clearly?" In his breakout film, Hou Hsiao-hsien finds the perfect distance for depicting memories in the deceptively tranquil long-shot, close enough to vividly caress these moments yet far enough to feel them evaporating into eternity. Tricked with promises of salacious movies, the boys wander into a dilapidated building and discover a different form of cinema, a widescreen window on a cement wall that opens like a camera obscura into a panoramic glimpse of their future. Grammar exercises on an open patio and drunken revelries into the night, a slow panning shot that fills an empty wicker chair with a faded daydream, a series of ethnographic immersions framed like Eliotís "fragments shored against my ruins." The finaleís combination of teeming crowds and disembodied cries is possibly a nod to King Vidor, and definitely a reminder of how Houís films barely have to raise their voices to be devastating. With Chang Shih, Tou Chung-hua, Chang Chun-fang, and Yang Lai-yin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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