Millennium Mambo Screen 5 articles

Millennium Mambo

2001

Millennium Mambo Poster
  • As an immersive, textural experience, it's pretty terrific: I haven't thought about the whole concept of fin de siècle "millennialism" and its visual tropes in a while, but Millennium Mambo definitely has some kind of vague conviction that there's something important and era-defining about neon lights at night, aimless night drives, apprehensive waiting for a change that is almost certainly not immiment despite the calendar rolling from 1999 to 2000 etc.

  • A circuitous and depressing film by the Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, Millennium Mambo takes place in 2001, but, as the exhausted-sounding female narrator tells us, the events in the film happened “ten years ago”, giving a sheen of nostalgia and loss to the proceedings that is hard to pinpoint. Mark Li Ping-bin shot the film, and its visuals are the most striking thing about it. The story is barely there, really, the story is not the point. It’s about a mood, a time, a _vibe_, a Taipei vibe.

  • Even setting aside its position in Hou's ouevre, Mambo stands on its own as an incredibly accomplished, if less than fully satisfying, piece of filmmaking. Isn't it worth considering Millennium Mambo on the terms it sets for itself before making a prima facie judgment as to its merit, to ask why Hou's made a film that is so lovely and elusive, enthralling and empty? To put a very fine point on it, what if the film’s disjointed fragments and underdramatized vignettes are, in fact, the point?

  • Millennium Mambo is a film of the future, set in a past that is the contemporary viewer’s present, and Mark Lee Ping-bin’s cinematography unfurls in a blur of motion and color that clarifies only ephemeral emotions, like the reflecting of a blinking yellow light that hovers over two people making love, or Jack’s tinted windshield illuminated a second at a time by tunnel lights, throwing the sight of Vicky sleeping on his shoulder into fleeting chiaroscuro.

  • Hou is in the company of Maurice Pialat or Béla Tarr: he sets up a scene not in order to transform it, but to contemplate and study it, to slowly unfold its levels and implications. Like a master chef, he stirs in the ingredients, the background information, the poetic motifs, the signs of historical and narrative context. It is up to us, as spectators or analysts, to intuit and draw out all these elements.