What Time is it There? (Ni na bian ji dian)

What Time is it There?

…What is the time now in Paris?

I’m sensing a pattern to these films that were ultimately removed from later editions of the list. Most of them somehow made the list to begin with, but in later editions they were found to be not up to the standard of the other titles; they were just… films, not anything special, just… there. What Time Is It There, a film by Tsai Ming-liang, is another fine example of this, a film that just exists, rather than has an actual point or anything to it. This one doesn’t come with a caveat or an explanation clarifying that it’s not because it’s a bad film, although it is nice to look at most of the time; the film is just so out of touch with what it should mean to be a film that I can’t honestly see anyone going out of their way to watch this willingly.

The film starts off by introducing us to our main characters, a street watch vendor and one of his customers, by having them meet and interact for the first time. Then, almost inexplicably, the film splits, and alternates between the girl as she moves to Paris, and the watch vendor’s new-found obsession with the girl and her new timezone (as well as a secondary story about the watch vendor’s mother and her strange fascination with anything that may mean her dead husband has come back to her). The film often reminded me of Satantango, which to me is probably not a good thing; long, uninterrupted shots where little happens, that to some may be taken as stoic and emotionally illuminating, but to the layman’s eye just looks long and tedious for no reason. Now, at this point in my quest, I would like to think that I’m no longer really a layman, but I just saw no point in doing the film this way. If a shot is supposed to be this long and silent and passive, there has to be substance beneath it all; a purpose and a goal to it, otherwise is just ends up being stagnant and boring, which is what this ended up being for me. There were a lot of little quirks to the story, such as the watch vendor’s propensity to urinate in containers and the two character’s inexplicable connection to Truffaut’s film The 400 Blows, that just ended up being quirky, instead of being there for a purpose to the story, or for a reason. I am of the mind that everything that ends up in a film should be there for a reason; no matter how vague or convoluted it may be, the reason must always be there and must always serve the story of the film in some way, otherwise it is extraneous material that should be eliminated from the final cut. What Time Is It There just seemed to be a collection of this extraneous material; so much didn’t have any real bearing on moving the plot forward in any way or any direction, and even if it did, it took for-freaking-ever to get to the point, which would be fine if it had a purpose in doing so, but it didn’t, as far as I could decipher.

As hauntingly pretty as this was at times (mostly just because the film lingered on every shot so much you are pretty much forced to admire all of it), the story didn’t have any direction or forward momentum, so 90% of me watching this was ultimately me wishing the film would get on with whatever it was trying to do or say, and that’s not a very entertaining film watching experience for me, and I would think for almost anyone else as well. Even the central connection of the film, between the watch vendor and the female customer of his, was ancillary to the film’s intended purpose. What the film’s intended purpose is, however, is entirely up in the air. You might have better luck than me in figuring out what that may have been, but that would be if you could be convinced to even watch this in the first place, and that is likely not going to happen, at least from me.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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One thought on “What Time is it There? (Ni na bian ji dian)

  1. This film left so little impression on me that when someone asked me about the director, I had completely forgotten not only watching this film, but that I had ever even heard of the person who made it.

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