No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (2009)






THE SCOOP
Director:  Leon Dai
Cast:  
Yo Hsuan ChaoAkira ChenChih-Ju Lin

Plot:  A down and out man and his daughter live in an illegal hovel. The two live a happy peaceful life until the authorities intervene when the child reaches school age.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won 4 Golden Horses - Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Taiwanese Film.  Nom. for 4 Golden Horses - Best Leading Actor, Best New Performer, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction.
Runtime:  85min
Rating:  PG for some coarse language.


IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: YES)

Easily one of the top ten films of the year, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Not Without You) is a potent tearjerker, a film of such poetic beauty and humanist realism that it is difficult not to be touched deeply by its story.  The director is Leon Dai who has made only one feature film prior to this – the weakly received Twenty Something Taipei (2002). 

Better known as an actor than director, Dai’s No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti catapults him into the forefront of Taiwanese cinema, establishing him as a filmmaker with the pedigree to take on the social and political issues of his homeland.

This is a film based on a true story which happened in Taiwan.  An unlicensed worker who does odd (and often dangerous) jobs in the harbor in order to save enough money to send her daughter, Mei, to primary school gets the shock of his life: his wife who left him remarried another man, and are recognized by law as the parents of Mei. 

This means he has no legal power as parent to register his biological daughter for school and needs the signature of either of her ‘proper custodians’.  He also risks arrest for working illegally and could see Mei snatched away from him by the authorities.

No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti is shot in traditional black-and-white, not the pristine and high contrast kind as observed in films such as the recent WWII drama City of Life and Death (2009) but a more deliberately subdued cinematography which reminds of the French poetic realism films of the thirties.  Its visual beauty is made more stunning in the way Dai composes his shots.  He often employs wide shots (static or moving) of the harbor as big ships dock and tiny tugboats attend to them for repairs.

In another scene which stresses on the intimacy (and also the impending fragility) of the bond between father and daughter, the former dives underwater to tighten a nut on a ship’s propeller.  As he makes his way deep into the sea, he sees the vague silhouette of her daughter’s outstretched head on the boat floating above him as she stares deep into the murky water below.  She appears to be within an arm’s length yet seems so far away. In a later scene, the father asks the daughter, “Can you see me down there?”.  She replies, “I keep looking, keep looking, keep looking, and I will see you."

This simple dialogue becomes more resonant (on hindsight) in the final third of the film when the father and daughter are separated by the authorities, and will not see each other for two long years.  Dai tends to suggest (visually and textually) rather than imply directly during some of the film’s more emotional moments. 

In a key dramatic scene, the father breaks down in tears upon hearing that his daughter does not speak to anyone anymore after their separation.  He then asks, “Does she still draw?” Mei’s teacher says yes.  This brings viewers back to an earlier scene where Mei draws, on a blackboard in a deserted classroom, stick figures of herself and her father among the waves while her father takes a quick nap.  This technique of ‘contextual self-referencing’ makes the film such a joy to watch.

No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti is also a critique on the Taiwanese society and its government.  The policies are unfair to minority groups i.e. poor citizens, and the men involved in shaping these policies are despicable, power-hungry, and unsympathetic.  In a scene, a group of ordinary folks watches a live news program reporting on an ongoing suicide attempt.  Instead of praying for the safety of those involved, they laugh and bet whether anyone will or will not die. 

No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti is a powerful and authentic melodrama, and features stellar acting by the two leads.  Dai comes close to making a masterpiece that even Hou Hsiao-Hsien would be proud of.

GRADE: A





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