Sunday Streams — LATE AUTUMN

It’s been one week since wrapping the 46th Telluride Film Festival, which means it’s high time for reviews and fall previews.

In the spirit of the festival, let’s kick things off by first looking back. Each year, TFF invites someone not connected with one of the movies screening to curate a program of personal selections, movies they will introduce throughout the festival. This year Guest Director was the writer Pico Iyer.

Iyer selected five films: The Makioka Sisters (Japan, 1983), Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (India, 2002), Under the Sun (North Korea, 2015), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Japan, 1960), and the first film of his slate, Yasujirô Ozu’s Late Autumn (Japan, 1960).

“The minute I was asked to be the Guest Director, the one person I knew I wanted to represent was Yasujirô Ozu,” Iyer told the audience prior to the screening.

He’s the great spokesman for nothing seeming to happen. … For two and a quarter hours, it really seems like nothing is going on. A train whistles by, a neighbor stops in, a man sitting at his low table says, ‘Oh, really.’ 

And, then, you realize that the train is taking his son away. And the neighbor stopping by to remind the gentleman that if he doesn’t do something soon, his daughter’s life will be lost. And when he says, ‘Oh, really,’ it’s because he hasn’t got the message. … It’s almost as if Ozu gives us the quiet river behind the bold type billboards of events and dramas. It’s a quiet river where everything takes place. And not many directors I know have the courage to situate their films in that place of seeming inaction.

Iyer has spent his last three decades living in Nara, Japan — arguably the most peaceful city on the planet — and has recently published Autumn Light, an attempt to do in prose what Ozu did with a camera. More from Iyer’s introduction:

The other thing I love about Ozu: I think of him as the poet of the empty room. … Many of his scenes will take place in everyday small rooms — four or five people seated in it — and then, slowly they disperse. The camera stays there, second after second after second. And that’s when the emotion really comes in. I’m sure all of you have had the experience of stepping into the room of someone you love when she’s not there. You see a strand of hair, or a postcard. Or a letter that she’s writing. And suddenly, she comes to you with all her longings and her vulnerability and her hopes, much more powerfully than when she’s two feet ahead of you talking. … I think Ozu was wise enough to know that absence actually holds us more than any presence. And that silence speaks more than any other words. … The fewer words spoken the greater the possibility for community. Words divide what silence brings together. 

And finally:

Ozu’s not just the heart and spirit of Japan, he’s the heart and spirit of anyone who’s been a father of the child who has heard the train whistling past.

Ozu’s Late Autumn is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.