Café Lumière

2003, Japan

Have you ever been walking down the street, riding the bus, or sitting by a window in a restaurant, when all of sudden, for some inexplicable reason, a stranger catches your eye?  Not necessarily because of how attractive he or she is or how the person’s dressed or some other “concrete” reason but, presumably, simply because it’s another human being.  And for a brief instant, you find yourself absolutely captivated by that stranger’s life.

You know nothing about them, and yet you find yourself, if only for a moment, concerned about their stories—where they came from, where they’re going, what they’re doing this particular moment, who their loves are, what their childhood was like.  And then the world sets back in—a breeze kicks up, the bus hits a bump, the waitress asks if you want a refill—and you’re distracted just long enough to completely lose that connection, for lack of a better term.

It’s a fleeting impression, and it’s not like you even remember what really drew you to that person.  But perhaps, for just a brief moment, we’re given moments of grace like that to remind us of the connected-ness that all of us human beings share—not in a silly, pseudo-spiritual way but in a hard, tangible ways that we’d all see better if it weren’t for jobs, schedules, and duties (I’m reminded of the scene in Robert Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest, where the priest comments that if we could see how close we were to eachother, we’d go mad).

All of these thoughts ran through my mind while watching Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Café Lumière.  I couldn’t help but think that the plot, if one can call it such, of the movie came to Hou when he saw a young woman on a train, and fascinated by what her life might be, decided to transform that into a screenplay.

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