Don’t believe the trailer, which gives a poor impression of what’s in store: Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic is lighter on the action than you’d expect, and, for a blockbuster, formally adventurous. Based on true events that took place in 14th century France, The Last Duel tells the story of a lifelong feud and a sexual assault… then it tells it again, and then once more. Three perspectives are brought to bear on the events, those of Jean (Matt Damon), a soldier and vassal; Marguerite (Jodie Comer), his wife and the daughter of a treacherous lord; and Jacques (Adam Driver), his oldest friend, and squire to a count – each controls a third of the film, shaping the story as they understand it. It’s an ambitious project, drawing consciously on narratives and discourses around patriarchy and sexual assault whose importance to our cultural conversation have become increasingly established in recent years – but does it work?
We continue our discussion of the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, this time with a focus on The Time to Live and The Time to Die, the second in his cycle of autobiographical films after The Boys from Fenkuei.
In the podcast below, we discuss what is depth in this film and talk about Hou’s consideration of ‘traces ‘in the surfaces of his films, how depth is often inextricable from surface in his work. We note the structuring of this film, a bildungsroman, around a series of deaths. We talk of how often the key narrative points are obscured, and make sense only in the connections the viewers can make subsequently; how Hou often films in fixed positions, so we return to the same scene but across time, and we think about how this might affect all those spaces without faces, the anticipatory space, and the remains after characters have left the scene. We also explore the dual perspective in the film, the filmmaker’s and the protagonist’s, often intersecting, rarely interchangeable. We mention how Hou narrates the beginning of the film and how the drama is filmed in the real places and spaces he grew up in, and the effect of dramatising fictionally, on our speculation of the effects of spaces across time in this narrative….and much more. The podcast can be listened to below:
-A good overview of the autobiographical and historical context, and the source of the quote about the ending (“The making of the movie is the happy ending the film itself so crushingly lacks, if a happy ending is even possible.”
The Time to Live and The Time to Die was one of Derek Malcolm’s 100 greatest films in a series he did in 2000. He talks about how comparatively little known Hou was in the UK at that point, and also was the initial source for the discussion on the title https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/aug/03/artsfeatures1
— The beginnings of Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:
Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times, London: 07 June 2005: 13.
Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48
David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,
Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.
Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19
Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78
Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.
Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.
Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14
Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653
Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98
Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’, Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.
Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.
Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3
Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.
Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)
Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.