East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: The Wayward Cloud [festival note]

Taiwan, 2005
Starring Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Shyi, Yozakura Sumomo

Written and directed by Tsai Ming-Liang

Tsai's funniest movie is his most explicit, and yeah there's a connection. It's already inspired some seriously detailed writing (links contain major major spoilers, don't even think about clicking them unless you've seen the movie), most of which I even agree with, even if they shortchange the jokes. The woman-man-watermelon ménage à trois is useful first and foremost because it's hilarious; it's hilarious, if this needs to be said, because it refuses to show what we expect, which basically means it's fucking weird, as well as weird fucking. The larger context is soon revealed, and the sex is never so good again, until... Suffice to say that most of the sex in the movie is unarousing, without any higher connection between the participants. Hey, it's a Tsai film, you expect them all to join hands and dance? Oh wait, they do that too.

We find Taipei is bone dry, which apparently means you can't turn on a tap, so the characters have to go to extreme lengths to hydrate themselves. Hsiao-Kang (Lee) and Shiang-Chyi (Chen) rekindle their not-really-a-relationship from What Time Is It There? (and the short The Skywalk Has Gone, which I haven't seen) when the latter finds the former asleep on a swing and requisitions some of his water to clean a watermelon she found floating under a bridge. This time there's more at stake. The news tells of youths giving watermelons to their beloveds as tokens of their esteem, so what does it mean when Shiang-Chyi gives Hsiao-Kang a glass of watermelon juice? What does it mean when Hsiao-Kang doesn't drink it? Lee and Chen are extremely game here; neither is called upon to risk degradation quite as much as Yozakura is ("the cap's inside the Japanese girl"), but then neither of them are adult video stars.

The movie is anti-porn, but the disgust is less moral than aesthetic, and even in the closing sequence (which I don't think is necrophilic, based on what little I know about corpses) it's not stiff in its attitudes. And the very end, how do I express its screwed-up brilliance without giving it away... It's disturbing, but more importantly it's a ray of light penetrating the haze around the characters. It could blow the Asian Cinema wide open if anyone ever sees it. This will never, ever get a theatrical release, so you might have to contort yourself in order to see it, but see it you must.

Also seen
Gabrielle (Patrice Chéreau): You might expect a movie based on a Conrad story and starring Isabelle Huppert to be psychologically astute, then again you might not. It's about an unpleasant married couple; the wife leaves and then comes back, and the husband isn't too happy about this. Huppert's performance is technically unassailable, as always, and less than the sum of its parts, as often: Huppert doesn't do likeable, which twists the feminist moral. We get widescreen close-ups stretching from her forehead to her throat, letting us know she's acting hard. These are the best scenes in the movie, since Pascal Greggory isn't technically unassailable. Considering how stagy the screenplay is, Chéreau does a good job moving his cameras around restricted spaces, and this might be enough for those who are fond of upper bourgie decor.


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