Please keep in mind that this review contains spoilers!
How wonderful that Netflix exist and it allows you to see and connect with different ways of telling stories and audiovisual backgrounds! What would be the life of audiovisual maniacs without you, my dear? I just watched the new Netflix film “Your name engraved herein” and I am thrilled! “Your name engraved herein” is a 2020 Taiwanese romantic drama film, directed by Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu and starring Edward Chen, Jing-Tseng and Leon Dai. The film premiered in Taiwan on 30 September 2020, and its international release took place on 23 December 2020.
Set in Taiwan when martial law ends in 1987, Wang Po Te (Tseng Jing-Hua), known as Birdy, is transferred to the same Catholic secondary school as Chang Jia-han (Edward Chen). The two meet at a swimming class, and A-Han’s interest in Birdy begins to spark. The two approach and become friends. The closer the two become, the more the feelings arise. During the classes of the band, lead by Canadian Father Oliver, who speaks to his students about “living the moment” (“profiter du moment”) and discusses the concept of youth and love with the students. Birdy and A-han exchange looks and smiles at each other.
Later on, after President Chiang Ching-kuo’s passing away is announced, the two decide to take a trip to Taipei to mourn. One summer after that trip, A-han and Birdy become inseparable. They become confidants sharing plans, expectations, and also the dreams of being a filmmaker (Birdy) and musician (A-han).
In the following semester, the school has introduced a coeducational policy, as the presence of girls students that alters the school dynamics. Despite allowing girls to enrol, school officials are still strict about gender mixing. In-band class, a school disciplinary officer gets into an argument about keeping boys and girls apart. A student Wu Ruo-fei (known as Ban-Ban) argues to the officer. Birdy also intrudes, arousing growing interest between the two. As Birdy and Ban-Ban start spending more time together, A-han starts getting more and more jealous and helpless and their relationship falls apart.
Later, A-han helps Birdy after the latter suffers an accident on A-han’s scooter. Back at the dorms, A-han helps Birdy bathe due to her injuries. They soon become intimate, and A-han starts masturbating Birdy. Birdy resists but then gives in to the desire. When Birdy climaxes, he kisses A-han, but then apologizes. After that, Birdy begins to ignore and avoid A-han, confusing him. The conflict increases when Birdy assumes Ban-Ban as his girlfriend and he and her are expelled from school because of Birdy only being detained for the balloon story. The two boys start fighting with each other.
Reconnecting to the present not so far from that past, the story shows A-han and Father Oliver talking about the fight and A-han feelings, Father Oliver talks about his youth and how he used to rebel, but tried to stay on the path. A-han goes back home because Birdy is there. When A-han comes home, his parents tell him not to fight with his best friend for a girl, but A-han almost talks about the reason for the fight with Birdy. A-han runs away from home, with Birdy following him. They arrive at an island where A-han tries to take out his frustrations by screaming. They have intimate moments together on the beach. After that, they don’t see each other. Birdy steps away to concentrate on his college entrance exams and A-han calls him one last time to confess her love for him by playing a song “Your Name Engraved Herein”. The duo collapses and cries with desire due to heartbreak.
Many years later, at the school band meeting, a middle-aged A-han appears in hopes of meeting Birdy again, which is futile. A-han then reconnects with Ban-Ban, who is now Birdy’s ex-wife and has children with him. Ban-Ban notes that Birdy’s stubbornness in keeping his secret has ruined everyone’s lives. A-han later travels to Montreal to pay tribute at Father Oliver’s grave and meets with Father Oliver’s former lover. He tells A-han about Father Oliver’s struggle to accept his identity as a homosexual man and how he turned to religion to suppress his desires. A-han is still upset that he is unable to meet Birdy, but they meet outside a bar, where they talk about their love, struggles and relationship. Birdy finally admits that he loved A-han at the time and was unable to accept that.
When they arrive at A-han’s accommodation, he offers Birdy to come in for a drink, which Birdy refuses but, accepts the offer to walk back to his hotel together. As they walk together, Birdy begins to sing “Your Name Engraved Herein”, which A-han joins. The film ends with the older couple watching their younger selves sing with each other and hop down the alley together.
The narrative of the film uses classic elements of cinema as the non-linear narrative to tell a story based on memories of director Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu, who led the movie brightly. The movie opens A-han bleeding having a chat with Father Oliver and then it runs back to the past introducing the characters and their storylines.
The narrative builds the characters and their conflicts with great delicacy and verisimilitude, bringing Taiwanese culture – little known in the west of the world – as a backdrop and how it dealt with some topics such as traditional family pressure, homophobia and social stigmas. The director moves to the right direction his cast, especially the young actors who transmit with sensitivity, fear, anguish, passion, rebellion, truth, tension and sexual tension, the dilemma they live in.
When the saga goes to the current times, in the last act, the narrative gets a bit lost, when it wants to sort out the entire conflict very fast that becomes confusing. Dramatic solutions such as the reunion of A-Hain and his schoolmates, the trip to Canada to pay homage to Father Olivier, the revelation that the priest, like him, was also fighting against his homosexual nature in 1987, etc, occur fast and without the emotional needs. Another issue I’ve detected, the actors who play the protagonists in adulthood are not able to maintain the artistic chemistry or convince as those young beloved teenagers. I could fell rapport and connect with them.
I want to highlight three scenes that I believe they can be considered important moments of the contemporary LGBTQ+ Cinema. First, the bathe scene, in which A-Han helps Birdy to take a shower in the bathroom school accommodation, who has broken his arm. I think the director put his soul in that scene. It was so real, exciting! The way the couple cries and hugs while sharing an intimate moment full of conflicting emotions of love, pain, shame and desire. It is a long scene that causes a lot of sensation and that the actors managed to do without embarrassment, with a lot of truth. Second, another remarkable moment that ends the second act, when A-han calls Birdy, who has been trying to avoid him for some time. A-Han sings the song he composed for his love “You are graved here”. I felt broken hearted as well. The director achieved his goal. It’s time for baby wipes! Third and last moment, when A-Han confesses to Father Oliver his love for Birdy and he says about what is the difference between the priest or anyone’s love and the love he feels for Birdy” and he comes ups to his conflict with Bible dogmas.
Before that, in addition to, A-Han has a beautiful dialogue ( btw, another interesting achievement of the movie) whit his mother, after arguing with his father for the way he is treated. A-han’s mother tries to calm him down and they talk about why she has been in a marriage without love. She justifies the situation that the marriage gave him to her. A-han debates if everything is about procreation, not about love and feeling. It’s a good reflection about opening the cages that imprison us into old concepts that steal the freedom.
Photos Credit: Netflix