Tag Archives: Tony Rayns

Hou Hsiao-hsien 9: Daughter of the Nile (1987)


We discuss Daughter of the Nile as a transitional film for Hou, the relatively few  locations (the house, KFC, the nightclub, the beach etc) in which the film is set, the now typical Hou way of filming from repeating fixed camera positions with little or no movement; the way the protagonist remains relatively unknowable, the fractured family on the edges of criminality across generations, the lack of judgment on that, the continued use of fart jokes, the context in which the film was made (end of Martial law, ongoing relationship with American consumer culture etc). A film José didn’t quite like as much as Richard but which nonetheless rewarded a second viewing. The podcast may be listened to below:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546


Listeners might be interested in this wonderful introductory lecture to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s cinema by the great Tony Rayns:

Andrew Chan in the November-December 1917 issue of Film Comment calls Daughter of the Nile a ‘ a scabbed wound of a film whose identification with disaffected city youth paved the way for the harsher provocations of Tsai Ming-liang a half-decade later’.


The New York Times Review compares the film to OZU, Bresson, Rebel Without a Cause 

In Slant Magazine: ‘Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s compositions arrange walls, doors, and windows as frames within a frame, visually trapping characters under the weight of their relationships and responsibilities. …

‘Sandwiched as it is between the two major trilogies in Hou’s canon—the first (A Summer at Grandpa’sA Time to Live and a Time to Die, and Dust in the Wind) focused on the filmmaker’s personal memories, and the second (A City of SadnessThe Puppetmaster and Good Men, Good Women) on Taiwan’s fraught history—Daughter of the Nile is often overlooked. Yet in its elegiac, ambivalent view of neon-streaked city streets and youth floundering in a unfathomably huge cultural transition, it points the way toward Hou’s later films like Goodbye South, Goodbye and Millennium Mambo. The film is also one of Hou’s most accessible works, its depiction of angst-ridden, Westernizing youth fitting well within contemporaneous Taiwanese New Wave cinema while showcasing the director’s formal idiosyncrasy.

In a lovely review for The Monthly Film Bulletin, Tony Rayns writes, ‘In a curious way, Hou’s cinema seems to e edging closer and closer to Bresson. His preference for long, fixed-angle takes in which his characters simply go about their business increasingly succeeds in rhyming exterior gesture with unspoken, interior thoughts. In a word, his cinema is becoming more spiritual’. It can be accessed here: rayns

Richard tells me, ‘info on the KFC Japan Christmas celebration discussed in the podcast…’: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20161216-why-japan-celebrates-christmas-with-kfc

The New York Times one I talk about: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/movies/daughter-of-the-nile-hou-hsiao-hsien-quad-cinema.html

A perceptive review of a cinema screening, from the period when the film was still hard to see http://www.reverseshot.org/symposiums/entry/616/daughter_nile

-Review from Film Comment of the restoration, which draws attention to the fart joke: https://www.filmcomment.com/article/review-daughter-of-the-nile-hou-hsiao-hsien/

-This covers the different reception of the film on original release and rerelease (including quotes from the Vincent Canby New York Times review, and Tony Rayns more recent commments) https://asianmoviepulse.com/2018/09/film-analysis-daughter-of-the-nile-1987-by-hou-hsiao-hsien/

…and with thanks to Richard’s super research skills, the theme tune for the video

—  Josés increasing 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

-Combs, Geoffrey, ‘ Dust in the Wind/ Lianlian Feng Chen’, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 1990;57, 675, pg.111.

-Diffrient, David Scott ,’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

-Rayns, Tony, ‘Daughter of the Nile’ Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 989, 56, 663.

-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.

-Udden, James, ‘Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema  Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)

-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.

Y-ip, June, ‘Taiwanese New Cinema’ in 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.


La mort en ce jardin/ Death in the Garden (Luis Buñuel, France/ Mexico, 1956)



La mort en ce jardin/ Death in the Garden is the second of what Raymond Durgnat has labelled Buñuel’s  “revolutionary triptych”, along with Cela s’appelle l’aurore (1956and La fièvre monte à El Pao (1959) : “Each of these films is, openly, or by implication, a study in the morality and tactics of armed revolution against a right-wing dictatorship.” Each is also a France-Mexico co-production with big stars. In this one Simone Signoret, Charles Vanel, Georges Marchal and, as Phillip Kemp tells us in the fine essay on the film accompanying the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, Michel Piccoli, in the first of seven films he would make with the director,  more than any other actor.

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Revolt and Death

The film is split in two halves. In the first, diamond prospectors in some Latin American country are arbitrarily revoked their rights to the claims they bought and given twenty-four hours to vacate the area with all their goods the risk of forfeiting them. The ruling powers are authoritarian: might is power; power is law; power is wielded capriciously and unjustly. The people rebel but don’t act cohesively and lives are lost without much ground being won. Both Tony Rayns and Victor Fuentes have written of how in the first half of the film Buñuel drew on his understanding and knowledge of the Miners’ Strike in Asturias in 1934 and also on some of the happening during the Civil War.

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The second part of the film is when the main stars have to escape and get stranded in the jungle: the criminal adventurer (Georges Marchal) the prostitute (Simone Signoret), the priest (Michel Piccoli), the rich prospector (Charles Vanel) and his daughter Michèle Girardon) all struggle to survive; and as they do social categories fall asunder, old dreams die, Paris gets torn to burn and illuminate, pen and paper can lead to freedom, The Garden becomes a jungle, prayer books can light fires, ants eat snakes before people do, diamonds get thrown into the sea, the jungle can bring forth jewels and champagne, some go mad, and some survive…at least for now.

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Prayer books do have their uses…

It’s a very great film, a complex one that dramatises Buñuel’s perennial themes of exile and entrapment but also deals with authoritarianism, colonialism, people’s natures and their capacity to change, religion as passive upholder of exploitation; and allegories on the Edens in the real world and those in our minds. Phillip Kemp mentions one can trace an attempt to replicate the success of Clouzot’s Le salaire de la peur (1953)/ The Wages of Fear: Charles Vanel is in both. Tony Raynes and Victor Fuentes both see Nazarín (1959) as Buñuel’s subsequent development of the character of the priest, here played by Michel Piccoli and then by Francisco Rabal in the later film.

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A priest in exile

In a very illuminating interview that is an extra in the Masters of Cinema edition, Tony Rayns says, ‘We can see his very fluent, very neutral, anonymous visual style. The film is filmed almost entirely in follow shots, pans following action. There are not attempts at expressiveness in the compositions. There are no particular emphasis or editing tropes that are there either in the film language or in the composition of individual shots. This is studiedly neutral from Buñuel’s point of view, and that became his trademark style….He didn’t look for emblematic compositions. He didn’t look for shots that would startle us. His version of Surrealism is that the uncanny, the inexplicable, the mysterious, should be integrated as much as possible within the flow of seeming naturalism so that it would be more effective as a startling device. He didn’t want the sudden shock. He wanted the underlying disquiet or the underlying wonderment. For him that’s what Surrealism meant.’

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Jewels in the jungle

La mort en ce jardin/ Death in the Garden deserves much more attention than I’m able to give it here. All I want to point to now is that Simone Signoret, beautiful and in a gorgeous Eastmancolour, gives a performance that must rank amongst her very greatest (though there’s so much to choose from). Phillip Kemp writes that Signoret proved particularly difficult, ‘because she didn’t want to do the film..She had to go through New York on her way to join us in Mexico so she slipped some Communist documents into her passport, hoping to be turned away by American immigration, but they let her through without a murmur. Once here and on the set, her behaviour was at best unruly, at worst very destructive to the rest of the cast’. If so, she was worth it. Her presence at the height of her beauty and in colour plus her performance are in themselves reasons enough to see the film today (though there are many others). Death in the Garden is now available on blu-ray in a very beautiful transfer as part of the Masters of Cinema series.

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José Arroyo