Immediately following an encore screening of Agnes Varda's Faces Places (5 p.m.) at Vilas Hall, UW-Cinematheque is showcasing a beautiful new 4K restoration of Daughter Of The Nile (1987), directed by another icon of New Wave Cinema, Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien. This decade, Hou may be most widely known for his moody art house period piece, The Assassin, which claimed the top spot in Sight And Sound's 2015 year-end poll. But the filmmaker found his creative footing in the 1980s with the historically reflective A Summer At Grandpa's (1984) and two subsequent coming-of-age dramas that fulfilled a trilogy. Daughter Of The Nile expands upon the aforementioned template in a contemporary urban setting as an affectionate tale of youthful ennui and escapism.
Guided by Hou's steady hand and oblique style, the film's resigned heroine, Lin Hsiao-yang (pop singer Yang Lin), attends night school while working long daytime hours at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Taipei to support her troubled family. Attempting to mitigate turmoil at home with an absent police officer father and petty criminal brother (Kao Jack), she develops an impossible crush on one of her brother's cronies and seeks solace in the time-traveling romance of the titular manga in which a young American woman is transported to ancient Egypt.
In its mesmerizing depiction of teens' struggles with disaffection and disillusionment, Daughter Of The Nile bears striking similarity to Tsai Ming-liang's Rebels Of The Neon God (1992), another classic of the Taiwanese New Wave that also saw a restoration screening in Madison last spring. Hou's tragic chronicle rather embraces the female perspective, and it is perhaps even more evocatively empathetic in tone. —Grant Phipps