Our Far East Film Festival 2023 continues with a choral and familiar story, that of Gaga by Laha Mebow, closing the trilogy on Taiwals. The story of a Taiwanese family that loses its grandfather and acquires a grandchild: the circle of life continues, between ups and downs, to restart together.
Let’s start our review of Gagail film by Laha Mebow presented to Far East Film Festival 2023, saying that it is pleasant to find such a welcoming and warm film in the selection, just like the Taiwanese family it wants to tell. But also repulsive and contradictory, just like all the nuclei of relatives we’ve had to deal with in our lives. Written by the director together with Hsieh Hui-ching, the film represents the closure of the trilogy dedicated to the Tayal, the oldest Taiwanese tradition now in disuse. Of this – among many aspects – the film speaks: of the universal and timeless clash of the old with the new, and of trying to find a new compromise – and a way to be able to communicate – for the new generations.
“Gaga” is a name that indicates the Taiwanese tradition, often no longer considered or respected by young people. The film tries to ask itself: how can tradition and modernity coexist? The members – many – of the family at the center of this story try to understand it: amiable, rejecting, unpleasant, taciturn, loud. When the grandfather, who was not only the patriarch but also the spiritual guide of the family, dies leaving a seemingly unfillable void in the family, increasingly adrift and trying to pave its own path in Taiwan and in the world, one of the daughters takes care of it to get pregnant bringing, in parallel and poetically, a possible new life in the nucleus. On the one hand the girl’s family, divided between political commitment and debts to be paid, on the other that of uncles-cousins, who are left with nothing but the piece of land bequeathed to them by the old man. Then there is the grandmother, now a widow without her other half, who tries to keep the pieces of her children and grandchildren together and at the same time act as a guide for what is to come from now on. The use of the handheld camera, the dirty photography, the dialogues as simple as they are noisy, are all ploys to bring out the independent side of the film and its almost documentary look, almost stolen from the daily life of this family.
Far East Film Festival 25: “In this post-pandemic edition we are confident of a sold out audience”
In Gaga there are all the typical elements of any family at any latitude, combined with local folklore and cultural assets, such as killing a pig as a good omen for an important event. Have Mebow wanted to close his “ideal” trilogy that began in 2010 with Finding Sayun and continued with Hang in There, Kids!dedicated to safeguarding the local indigenous traditions of the country, to try to photograph what is and above all what will be, what could be the way forward in order not to forget or betray the fundamental and important aspects of tradition, without for this reason locking oneself up with blinders towards change and evolution. The intimate story thus becomes universal, it can speak to each of us, and works at its best in the choral scenes, in which the characters talk to each other, without letting the other finish the sentences, without articulate them well, just as happens in large families who live together, perhaps in a single building, anywhere in the world. Speaking of dialogues, another theme of the film seems to be thegenerational incommunicability, which often concerns all of us: it is told to us through the character of the boyfriend who comes from New Zealand and does not speak a word of Taiwanese but only English, having grown up overseas. The incommunicability is also the one inside the nucleus, which is not always able to tell each other everything she would like and how she would like but at the same time she never stops trying, showing heart and openness. Even the grandmother, so apparently anchored to her own traditions, from working the land to respecting the elderly.
It’s not just about Gaga tradition but about culture and belonging, for translated. What does it mean to belong to a people (or what’s left of it?) if only 2.42% of the population of Taiwan is she aboriginal? Turning tradition into commerce, as did the protagonist family who organize tours for tourists with the grandfather who knows all the historical anecdotes of the place and the grandson who can play the mouth harp and can entertain the customers? The feature film also acquires a double meaning off the screen, where Laha Mebow was the first indigenous woman to win Best Director at the 2022 Golden Horse Awards. She too comes full circle, just like the protagonist family of her film. A great result, which we hope will do Taiwanese cinema good and bring it good luck. Without having to sacrifice any pigs.
We close our review of Gaga happy to have found a film that is as indigenous as it is universal, which can speak at all latitudes through the intimate and attentive eye of director Laha Mebow. A choral story, which acquires its strength above all in the noisy and confusing group scenes, while trying to reflect on the conjunctions between past and future, between tradition and modernity, between generational comparisons and circles of life that close and open in a poetic way .
Because we like it
- The family at the center of the story, which speaks to all of us.
- Choral scenes.
- The themes addressed, between tradition and incommunicability.
- Almost documentary direction and photography.
- This extremely “indie” aspect of it may not appeal to everyone.
- Some interpreters are immature, but this is also what embellishes the film.