Flowers of Shanghai (1998)
Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien
Flowers of Shanghai is as crazily sumptuous in tone as it is unwavering in historical faithfulness. Its conjuration of a 19th century Shanghainese bordello—wherein all of the film’s elliptical, single-take sequences take place—marries the sensual fragrance of an exotic harem with the otherworldly hermeticism of a cloister. Yoshihiro Hanno’s faintly electronic, synth-heavy score lends a majestic counterpoint to the film’s measured visual poetry.
In an interview around Flowers’s French release, Hou remarked that, when watching his films, “one loses a sense of time—as in dreams, one can no longer measure the passage of time.” Flowers is a superlative display of Hou’s peerless unhinging of time. Tony Leung’s pensive, faraway gaze—while partaking of opium, drinking games, or lamenting a troubled love—almost singlehandedly rustles the film’s temporal continuity, wresting viewers’ attention from the there-and-then of the film’s action to some ruminative, lyrical beyond. Michael Blum (April 16, 10pm; April 17, 9:30pm; April 19, 6:30pm at the Metrograph’s “Metrograph A-Z”)