Criterion Prediction #258: In Our Time, by Alexander Miller
Title: In Our Time
Director(s): Edward Yang, Yi-Chang, Ko I-Chen, Jim Yao
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Emily Y. Chang, Li Kuo-hsiu
Synopsis: In Our Time is a multi-volume anthology film that gave way to up-and-coming directors such as Chang Yi, Ko I-Chen, Jim Yao and, most importantly, Edward Yang.
After a coming of age tale, “Dinosaurs,” by Jim Tao, the second story, “Expectations” (or “Desires”) by Yang, explores a teenager’s infatuation with an older lodger who rents a room from her mother. The third, by Ko I-Chen, titled “Leapfrog,” follows a relatively physically fit college student nicknamed “fatty” and his desire to win an athletic competition. Lastly, there’s “Say Your Name” by Yi-Chang; as a newlywed couple settle into their new apartment, the husband locks himself out of their place while wearing nothing more than a towel and a pair of underpants while his wife is at work.
Critique: Not only did the film introduce audiences to the Taiwanese New Wave, it heralded the coming of its foremost progenitor. Yang would go on to a prosperous career and international acclaim. So, where does that put the segments by the other directors whose subsequent careers were less successful? Despite emerging as the strongest of the lot, Yang’s “Expectations” isn’t the sole reason to seek out In Our Time given that the collective talent yields a strong anthology,and it’s much more effective than some other multiirector collections out there. Despite the varying returns (more bad than good), studios and distributors still push for them, from the countless European mish-mashers (ala Ro.Go.Pa.G., Witches, or Boccaccio ‘70) to the Asia-centric Three Extremes, they keep coming. The virtue at the heart of In Our Time is that its genesis is less commercial and more inspired by the cinematic revolution that was brewing in Taiwan. The steamy, dreamy first venture is a gently lulling narrative that captures the fears and whimsy of childhood with a truly surreal diversion featuring an all-dinosaur band. The third, “Leapfrog,” is a strange but curious insight into competition and personal growth. The final, most comedic story feels akin to the thirties’ screwy comedies – not as involving but enjoyably realized and performed. Naturally, Edward Yang’s stellar short emerges as the obvious placeholder. Arriving with the thematic familiarity of his best work, “Expectations” is rife with growing pains, longing, family discord and emotional resonance.
It is intelligent and meditative with the atmospheric command of the 60s period.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Something of a curiosity for fans of the genre, In Our Time has been a long sought after title from the Taiwanese New Wave. Now, after having seen the recently restored version streaming on MUBI, it’s fair to assume that someone is in the process of tailoring a Blu-Ray release of the film. While Criterion is still somewhat limited to a small number of Taiwanese films in the Collection (while the streaming channels boasts a handsome variety), it’s fair to be optimistic about more Edward Yang films coming to the fore. Since the interest in the film might be skewed since it’s mainly focused around Yang’s segment, it could appear as a bonus feature or as part of a collection.