In Shannon Olsen’s novel Children of God Go Bowling, people do little more than talk about how they feel. The main character, also named Shannon, deals with being over thirty, single, and Minnesotan all at the same time, in conversations with her friends, sessions with her therapy group, and in a dozen little confrontations with her mother. It’s a frustrating book; as much as Shannon talks with the people around her, she never seems to be able to say the things that need to be said to the ones that need to hear them, instead using her friends and family as surrogates for each other, always asking for advice, never taking action. All these redirected complaints and conversations have the effect of canceling each other out, making most of the book feel emptier than it might.

In Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film Café Lumiére, people don’t say much of anything at all. Everyone has an opinion about Yoko’s rather blithe announcement that she’s pregnant, but no one says much of anything about it. It’s one of those movies you actually have to watch in order to watch, where you can’t just let it play on the TV while you do other things. Words are hard to come by in the film, but it finds other ways to let you know what its characters are thinking about. Yoko’s father never says a word about her pregnancy, and she, and we, understand exactly what he means. Images of clocks float in and out of the frame, time passing by, slowly, inexorably. In the final scene, Yoko and her friend Hajime stand amidst a knot of passing trains, letting the sounds of the city wash over them, letting their internal states remain a secret.

It’s amazing how many different ways there are for people to not communicate with each other, and how many different things “not communicate” can mean.