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by Sean Uyehara
My friend Meredith Brody once teased me a bit for calling a movie “delicious.” It’s ironic because, in addition to being a cinephile, she is a bona fide restaurant and food critic—one of the best that San Francisco has seen, in this writer’s humble opinion. Anyhow, she understood what I meant, and even delighted in the turn of phrase a bit, but the phrase is open for a bit of ribbing.
I bring it up because it’s the term that first came to mind when thinking of the Taiwan Film Days entry Days We Stared at the Sun. Also, I wrote it in the program note SFFS put on the web: “Delicious melodrama.” The film is based on a wildly popular Taiwanese television series. It’s setting is high school; the typical high school that is rife with drug abuse, bullying, class differences, cliques, adolescent rage, big government scandals and the occasional homicide. Ah, to be young again.
So, what makes Days We Stared at the Sundelicious? What can I possibly mean? I don’t mean that rhetorically only. I actually have needed to go back and figure out why I would want to say that. (Thanks, Meredith.)
If I say a movie is delicious, it’s almost certainly going to be a melodrama. It’s going to be excessive, full of diffuse and pleasurable surprises. A taut movie can’t really be delicious. That sandwich was taut, yum? Naw, that sandwich was overloaded with secrets and unexpected textures and flavors. Maybe the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. That seems a bit more on track.
Here’s a strange thing I start to conclude from these cinegastronomical thoughts: as genres go, in general, it’s easier to justify liking a suspense film than a melodrama. And I wonder, is that true? I do in fact LOVE suspense films. Suspense is explicit in its pleasures. The tensions are conscious and on the table. As audience members, we want to know specific things—Who is the killer? Will he survive? Is she who she says she is? Does he even like pancakes? Okay, that last question is less common, but you get it: Suspense films address specific questions to audiences, tugging them along with a self-conscious playfulness.
With melodrama the pleasure is much more hazy. Excessive narration, excessive emotion, excess in general can overwhelm audiences with information that isn’t always apparently relevant. Manipulating the serial revelation of strange facts can sometimes feel like tricks: Okay, he’s her boss and her lover. Hold on he’s also her therapist… What?! And, he’s her brother? It’s a fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime here. Arguing in favor of melodrama takes resolve. It requires saying you are giggling with the film not in contempt of it. Days We Stared at the Sun is like that, a kind of scaffolding of unlikely events, piling up begging to crash at any second, defiantly and incredibly refusing to give in to reason and gravity. It’s terrifically delicious.
P.S. If you want to see one of the most crazy, delicious films ever, you have to check out Sympathy for Delicious, directed by and co-starring Mark Ruffalo.
Sean Uyehara is a programmer at the San Francisco Film Society.