Monday, July 6, 2009
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
A Chinese father visits his estranged American daughter – no, not really estranged, but grown distant in time. They have not met for eleven years. She is recently divorced. And he thinks that he can heal her. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers opens with meticulous shots of the father, observing for the first time, the American life-style of his daughter. He knows that she has changed a lot, stays reserved most of the time, and is gradually accepting the fact that communication may never be possible.
While she is away on work he cleans the house, arranges things scattered all over the place in particular order and prepares food, to give her a feeling of returning back to home and not just to an apartment. Some of the touching scenes of the film are set on the dining table, when the father tries to make her eat well. “Are you happy?” he asks finally, at the same time being careful not to indulge too much into her privacy.
“I am” she replies.
“But you are so quiet”
“You were also quiet when younger. That doesn’t mean you were unhappy”
There are buried secrets, and the film is not about how the two will come to terms by revealing them. There is a hint that the daughter may marry a Russian guy. The father who always introduces himself as a retired rocket scientist turns out to be a clerk, and there is a mention of his early affair with a woman. “We used to talk. That’s all we did” he explains. But explanations are not needed at all. They won’t make any difference. There are many Indian films about generation gap, but they are one-sided, and in most of them children are shown in a negative light. This film is not about such simplistic, unrealistic demarcations. It is about good people and their inability to communicate. He may not have been a good father, but he is eager to become a grandfather. “Older people make good grandparents, no matter how they were as parents” he says to his daughter. The viewer is not presented with long monologues of what went wrong. We just get snippets, and they are enough. Wayne Wang, director of the film, said in an interview that he chose to make this film because it reminded him of all the Ozu films he so admired when he was a film student. The film indeed has the patience and wisdom of Ozu – whose Tokyo Story, based on a similar theme, is one of the masterpieces of cinema.
It so happens that we tend to share our most intimate desires and secrets with friends or strangers, but not with people of the same blood. And this communication gap increases even more when we are geographically apart. The father, played by Henry O, meets a Persian woman in a park. He refers to her as Madame. They cannot speak each other’s language but they meet everyday to communicate with gestures and broken English. It is not difficult to notice how much he tries to explain himself to her. And it is not difficult to realize his urge to communicate with the woman he was apparently having an affair with years ago. It may not have been an affair at all. They were just talking. Something he couldn’t do with his own people.
Near the end of the film, we get a hint that they may remain strangers and communication may never be possible . When the father is about to leave he tells to his daughter “don’t say goodbye. I still hope that you will come to China someday and visit me”.
*Note: I may have failed to use the exact dialogues spoken by the characters, but I have tried to preserve their essence nevertheless.