Daughter of the Nile Screen 9 articles

Daughter of the Nile


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  • This 1987 Taiwanese feature by Hou Hsiao-hsien (City of Sadness, The Puppet Master) is full of life and energy around the edges, but comes across as rather blurry and undefined at its center... The director’s Ozu-like framing, which makes full use of domestic interiors, is striking, and the film has many interesting moments. But it’s difficult to shake off an overall sense that this is hackwork by a very talented filmmaker who deserves to be working with better material.

  • Hou’s relatively plain version of this æsthetic reflects the film’s existence as the most ungainly and unsure of Hou’s mature works, focusing on a single protagonist but spending too much time with other, undeveloped characters..., and not featuring a decisive ending, even one subtle-ised through ellipses and abstruse filmmaking. Still, this new look to Hou’s first urban film separates it from the burnished, warm nostalgia that pervades the æsthetic tone of Hou’s strictly historical films.

  • Hou was already a gifted stylist by the time he made the film, which is getting a belated Stateside theatrical run, though he wouldn’t reach full artistic maturity until his next movie, A City Of Sadness. In Daughter Of The Nile, his studious mise-en-scène—which extends to the soundtrack, seasoned with semi-ironic American pop songs—is sometimes lost on the indistinct plotting and narrative continuity.

  • There are few instances of extreme long takes, and while committed to capturing the quotidian details and rhythms of “real life,” the pacing and plotting of the film is tailored to a more conventional narrative filmmaking, at least by the standards of Hou... Daughter may not have perfectly expressed the exact distance Hou was looking for, at least compared to the completely confident balance between sumptuous beauty and chilly detachment of Millennium, but it was the first step on his way there.

  • To me for sure Hou’s most beautiful [film] on a shot-by-shot, light-by-light basis, and moreover the acting is on another level; somehow professionals sneaked on to his set, w/ Wu Nien-jen’s character work strutting along independently against the run of the film.

  • The film is rather pop as Hou goes; there are ample song interludes, and the melodrama surrounding Yang Fan’s baby-faced punk is a little boilerplate. But it’s essential Hou, a key transitional work between the gorgeous but sometimes sentimental early films and the cataract of masterpieces that began with A City of Sadness (1989). It’s hard to imagine a more necessary screening experience this fall.

  • Transitional shots are few; empty interiors are introduced before (or held after) being animated by human activity. Like Bresson’s actors, Mr. Hou’s are less performers than physical presences. The movie begins with a lengthy close-up of Ms. Yang that is practically a Warhol screen test... It's sometimes baffling but always beautiful. There are moments, like the shot of a door blowing open and shut, that however they defy understanding are quietly heartbreaking.

  • While Hou’s later portraits of urban alienation can sometimes verge on shrill and even a little judgmental . . . , Daughter of the Nile is pitched in the director’s quietest register . . . Hou has employed this light, delicate touch now and again throughout his career, but Daughter of the Nile represents something special: the kind of modestly crafted masterpiece a director makes just before he comes into recognition of his own stature.

  • Hou’s extensive use of nighttime exteriors, illuminated by neon lights and, in one unforgettable sequence, fireworks, combine with Lin’s past-tense voice-over narration to make the whole thing float by like a sad and haunting yet beautiful dream. If you have never seen a film by Hou Hsiao-hsien and are curious as to why a lot of critics, including me, consider him the best narrative filmmaker working today, this is an excellent place to start exploring his work.

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