Monday, December 8, 2008

Suzhou River

Lou Ye’s Suzhou River opens with a dialogue between two people, Meimei and her videographer boyfriend, played over a black screen. The dialogue is repeated during its synced mise-en-scene near the end of the film; Meimei presents an ultimatum to her boyfriend, will he look for her with the loving faithfulness that she saw another companion, Mada, relentlessly pursue his lover, Moudan. He distantly replies yes to all her questions, but she responds that he is lying; she knows she can no longer be satisfied in the relationship and leaves. The videographer occupies the role of narrator, and his subjectivity within this role is emphasized by the use of pervasive voice-over narration and point-of-view shot. Returning to the beginning of the film, the dialogue from the end of the narrator and Meimei’s relationship is what incites the narrator to recollect, and, through the recall of memory, reconstruct the complicated story of these four characters.

The story begins some-when, at the end of Meimei and the narrator’s relationship, and shifts into a somewhere, the narrator’s mindscape (we see from his “eyes” through the point-of-view camera), which is grounded within the urban setting around the river. From this highly subjective narrative position we are taken from the Suzhou River to Happy Tavern, where he first meets Meimei. He shifts into a retelling of Mada and Moudan’s story recounted to him by Meimei, and then back to his own experience within the triangle between he, Mada, Meimei. Finally, we “return” to the scene of dialogue from the beginning of the film, the two separate occurrences acting as “book ends” to the narrator’s reconstructive telling.

The crossing paths of the “drifter,” the videographer, and “walker,” Mada, are expressed by differences in space and lighting. The videographer’s Shanghai seems much more restricted, not only by the limitations of the point-of-view frame, but also that his spaces were usually indoors and/or he participated in them during night. As a result of getting the motorcycle Mada can cover more space at an accelerated rate, and when he rides it is usually during the day. The cinematography also opens up more space without the restrictions of the point-of-view; the camera has an objective distance from the action and actors, and reveals more filler space of the city.

This drifting through memory-space seems to me an emotional reconstruction of the urban space of Shanghai through the authorial presence of the narrator, and creates complications with a sense of place. The camera ends up both revealing the cityscape and at the same time constructing it according to the narrator’s subjectivity; only certain places have importance and as they are tied together by the videographer become a pocket of space within the city.

--Cody Beckman

(Suzhou River 蘇州河, dir. Lou Ye 婁燁, 2000)


Gillian Adler said...

I liked how you juxtaposed the two different uses of cinematography in the film. It definitely adds to what the film is trying to say about these two different stories, but also the emotional resonance of the videographer.

Anonymous said...

The Shanghai that we seen through the videographer's does seem limited and restricted. We don't see the skyscrapers and the whole view of the city. We only see the view of the place along the Suzhou River. So it's difficult to say that this is Shanghai.


Anonymous said...

I like your points on the cinematography constructing the space of Shanghai. The constricting space of the city coinciding to the videographer recalls reality as we all construct our surroundings differently. The videographer in the first person constructs the narrative and the space in which it occurs seems fitting.

Jon said...

I think the film could have used a sharper contrast in style or cinematography between the narrators point of view during the intro and finale and the bulk of the film about Mada.

Anonymous said...

I really like your explanation of the thematic and technical elements of the film and I agree with your reading of the movie. To me as well it is the emotional/subjective nature of the narrator's story telling that adds depth to the film.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the previous comment, about he emotional/subjective nature of the film, that was left by Joel, who forgot to sign it

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