The following is a review written for CUEAFS.com and reposted here. Together was originally viewed at the Berlinale Film Festival 2013 (International Premiere)
Pork noodles are the answer to love
Together (Tian Mi Mi). Director Chao-Jen Hsu.
Taiwan. 30th November 2012
"Sunday 10th February. Berlinale Film Festival"
One of the more soul-searching messages that is delivered from the observational romantic drama Together (Tian Mi Mi), if facing problems in romance then a love note and a bowl of noodles are all that’s needed. This peaceful film is constructed around 17 year old Xiao Yang and the people surrounding his life, from friends to parents co-workers to the on/off playboy who messes around with his sister.
The film opens stagnant and bleak, all the characters are holding up a façade that everything is perfect when it is clearly shown that the ties that bind them are weak at best. Xiao’s father much prefers hiding in his small print shop staying late at work to play the accordion, away from his wife and the fearful dread that she is maybe being drawn away by the costume stall owner who works next door to her juice shop. His sister disappears at night and shuns her job, whilst Xiao’s friends all reluctantly tiptoe around each other with their feelings and choose to hurt each other instead as an aggressive outlet.
Xiao appears naïve at first in the ways of love, but is clearly the puppeteer in this film where he coyly hitches friends together through the use of stolen poetry and helps his own family members with their ailing attachments. In one scene that is reminiscent of aspects from Hard Romanticker (Japan 2011), Xiao and his friends gallantly set out on their mopeds for a nighttime ride through the streets of Taipei, with the intention of defending his sister’s honour from her abusive ex boyfriend. It’s a really nice scene that sums up the tone of the whole film, Xiao embodying the spirit of family and his friends show how they all look out for one another, the interconnection of all their relationships expressed clearly when they all drop their own squabbles and defend one of their own gang.
Whilst not intentionally comedic, most of the film is hard not to provoke a laugh because the director (Chao-Jen Hsu) plays incredibly well on romantic stereotypes, and knowingly parodies them and their actions through the characters. This is represented well throughout but presented clearly in one scene where all the characters and their relationships converge, Xiao observing the happiness of each couple as he passes with a slight smile at his masterful handiwork in their connection, the only thing really linking them all being himself and a bowl of pork noodles.
For a film that doesn’t contain much (if any) plotline, it doesn’t matter because what comes away is a sense of belonging and understanding about how people develop relationships and connect to one another in love. An observational piece that feels like watching everyday life play out, it’s the small moments that truly make this film stand out. From accordion playing to embarrassing teenage love notes, Together proves that it really is the special little moments that matter the most.
After the film was screened at the Berlinale Film Festival, it was then followed by a Q&A from Director Chao-Jen, one of the lead actresses and the producer. They entered the stage to mass applause from the film, and were greeted with warm welcomes from the interviewer. The brief Q&A lasted 20 minutes. Chao-Jen explained in that time how being co-writer of the script, he wanted to tell a heavy story in a light way, exploring the break down of relationships and marriages whilst others form, through the growing perspective of a teenager. Each couple should be different and allowed to be together, man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, as they are all just couples. Chao-Jen then said he “believes every relationship should be blessed” and that he wanted to show this in the film, no matter the difficulty.
The Director and Actress then discussed how the script and performances in the film were more free flowing and improvised than most other scripts, as he would normally give the actors a direction for the scene to go in and an ending point, then allowed the actors to embellish the action and develop the scene as they felt it fitted, with some gentle nudges in direction from Chao-Jen. It was also mentioned that a lot of the love letters in the film were developed from himself and the other script writer reading poetry, or allowing the teenage actors to write their own which were afterwards cleaned up and used.
Being past midnight in Berlin, the Q&A briefly concluded and they left the stage to applause.
Looking back in reflection, 'Together' was one of my most favourite films of 2013 - 15/9/14