Ostensibly inspired by a documentary on a German terrorist group, Edward Yang’s austere third feature discovers, hidden within the stillness of human emotion, a terror far more brutal than any moment of physical violence. Bookended by images of guns and corpses, the film’s true focus is on the violence enacted in everyday relationships, whether between lovers, coworkers, or strangers. The narrative weaves intricately among three scattered groups of characters: a doctor and his novelist wife, a mopey female hoodlum, and a love-struck photographer, all threaded together by one prank phone call and a sense of deceit and lingering entropy. Yang said the film was “built rather like a puzzle; the spectator can rearrange it in his head when he gets home.” It is the inescapable feeling, not the telling, of the story that matters. Indeed, the gunshots at the beginning and end seem interchangeable, almost anticlimactic, rendered quaintly obsolete by the film’s painstakingly traumatic layering of human relations and their emotional violence.
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