16 mars 2006

The Wayward Cloud (3/4)

Digging deeper beneath the surface of things, an arguable attempt at a psychoanalitical interpretation of the film's personality in the hope to better understand the infamous last scene. Proposing various possible keys and leads to contemplate, food for thoughts. Make it what you want if you care. Is it overanalysing? I don't care.
And for the puritan minds, be warned this part is again full of spoilers and mature content. Why should a critique be any less graphic than the film is? Sure the nature of mental suggestion isn't quite the same in the poetry of visual language and in blind words. That's the paradox of the written description of a visual medium.

Dual Sexuality
This film appears to confront male and female libido in a very manichaean way, almost stereotyped, to open a debate on the gap between men and women. Alternating musical and porn scenes recreates the sexual fantasy respectively represented by both gender: graphic-physical for male/idealized-romantic for women.
HE and SHE fail to meet eachother because their conception of sexuality is unreconcilable (until the end, partially, controversially)
HE has turned sex into a mechanical job, and SHE fantasizes an idealization of love.
  • Tsai's most heterosexual film or satire of the heterosexual couple? gigolo?
  • Homosexual transposition into a dual character male/female?
  • Confession of a closet homosexual male fighting to find interest in women in vain? echoed in the lavatory/latrine musical segment.
Female libido : SHE (CHEN Shiang-Chyi)
  • Fantasy, romanticism, innocence, idealism, private, dreaming, ingenue, naive...
  • Burning/simmering for love, needs to feel loved, waiting for love
  • Erring, wandering around, seeking love everywhere
  • Porn video backroom scene : languid fondling, slowish arousal, picking videos randomly, proximity of bodies.
  • SHE remains clothed till the end, she doesn't go nude, unlike HE. her sexuality is interiorized and dissimulated.
  • Opposition of the sexuality of the watermelon scenes with the girl and the disturbing/uncomfortable backstage porn scenes.
  • Concomittence of HE and SHE's fantasies through matching cutaways (languid in front of TV, watermelong porn scene)
  • Concordance of dream sequence (musicals) with reality (sex desir, love) :
    - bubbles from the sink tap after the water dragon dream with the shampoo cloud in the water tank
    - impotence during a porn scene after the lavatory dream when the penis man is assaulted/inhibited by dozen of pressuring women
  • key in macadam + water (generating a water spring amidst a general drought!) = sexual symbol, fairy tale of the virginity delivered from a freezing spell by the charming prince.
  • locked suitcase from Paris? (pandora's box) sex is closed, virgin? she's frigid. Manipulating the digital code lock (= foreplay/masturbation), unable to open up her way to the intimate secret inside (inaccessible orgasm). He tries to unlock her, without much motivation, but can't. He also refuses her sexual invite (watermelon juice glass) but pretends to accept (and licks his lips to fake he enjoyed it which is good enough for her).
  • videostore/crossing the bridge feet on feet (playful teasing romanticism)
  • cooking together/crab on the floor (fear and excitation, craving for security, appeased/fullfilled by the presence of her man)
  • smoking under the table (her feet is turned into a cigarette holder, sensualization of her body, involvement in this smoking selfish ritual), she's left alone when he falls asleep (echoing the swing scene when they first meet: sleep shuts the door, keeping each on their side of the fence, sleep is excluding)
Male libido : HE (LEE Kang-sheng)
  • Often naked, or baring shamelessly lots of his skin
  • Unspoken inner feelings, miscommunication, silence, desirless, needs to feel attracted
  • Selfish pleasure, egotism, individuality, no string attached, vague loneliness
  • Sex is a mechanical function of his body
  • Male sexuality identified to pornography, especially in the last scene when feeling and action meet.
  • Performance, show off, public exhibition
  • Multiple conquests, casual sex, ritual, sexualy active

Analysis of the Musicals
Again, the musical numbers highlight in a burlesque way (parody of the genre) this sexual duality, clearly identifying the male and female aspect in their stereotypes conveyed by the genre establishment of cheesy romance. Although Tsai introduces a touch of subversion because his characters shift the expected representation of their gender. Cross dressing, male weakness/sensuality, female coldness/nymphomania that clash with the traditional conventions. They are literally small films within the film, with a thematic complexity, that could be analysed independently, metaphorically and symbolically.
I can't believe Tsai pretended (at the Berlin press conference) there is no meaning in the crossdressing, and genders are indifferently interchangeable for characters, that genders are meaningless. Faceciously excusing the awkward dress wore by HE in the umbrellas musical by the fact the costume designer couldn't provide a male suit in time for LEE Kang-sheng... I seriously doubt such an obvious "faux-pas", of course it was intentional and participates to the film's overall thesis.
  • MUSICAL 1: "Waterdragon's grief"
    Song "Half-moon" : HE cries the pain of being separated from his missing half, the distant moon shining away from him, inaccessible.
    This vignette features a very feminine male figure, bare naked with make up on, lasciviously swiming in the water.
  • MUSICAL 2 : "Statue Choir at the National Palace Museum"
    girls fondling sleezily against a cold metal statue (brown) of a placid smiling man (a Taiwanese president?) surrounded by oversized fantasy flowers made of fabric. 1 lead singer + 3 back vocals (in a typical music video style)
    This musical sequence impersonates the female perspective, and plays right after the museum scene when SHE steals flush water from the public toilet.
  • MUSICAL 3 : "Spider's heart"
    The porn star (LU Yi-ching) cries for love, she sold her soul to the porno industry but saves her heart. Like a swan song, apocalyptic setting, men in black tied to a fluffy spiderweb hold her in their hands, fire-throwers in the background.
  • MUSICAL 4 "Odd rendez-vous"
    Spoof of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, with watermelon motif on the umbrellas. Inversion of gender, crossdressing, boy in woman clothing and girl in suit. The songs says "I realized I had the wrong shoe on the wrong foot" (left-right inversion).
    HE meets 2 girls neither are the one he expected to date (confusion of identity, names and look).
    HE arrives with a pink dress (crossdressing), meet a girl (LU Yi-Ching) who wears a yellow dress, he mistakes for his date.
    In the next plan he looks at himself in a convex mirror (deforming identity), and wears the yellow dress of the girl he just met.- Interlude of an unidentified crowd (hidden by umbrellas) coming in a dragon's mouth with umbrellas of various colors and coming out of a tiger's mouth with uniform red umbrellas with a watermelon motif. (another symbolic/magic/mythical transformation)
    Then another girl (YANG Kuei-Mei) arrives in a grey suit (crossdressing), while the song says "she arrived late still wearing her sleepers and her dress isn't fixed" (dissynchronicity between words and images)
    Finally HE realizes the second one was the wrong girl again. The song says "Chen wasn't her name and she couldn't remember my name". And the two girls (one in suit, one in the pink dress) leave together.
  • MUSICAL 5 Latrine musical number
    plastic bucket-hat, funnel-bra, rubber-glove-made skirts, high heels, trumpet-plunger in hand. HE is disguised as a giant phallus with a cockhead helmet, a plastic hose circles his waist and 2 pinky transparent plastic balls hanging from his belt. Phallus inhibited/scared off by an army of women chasing him down, menacing with plungers. (following the impotence scene on the porn set, shame, guilt) echoes the videostore horny scene (with impotence issue too).
    Echoes the museum latrine scene where SHE steals water from the flush, and the correspondant musical number of the Statue choir, where girls fondle against the male statue, but this time it's from the male perspective and feels like oppression.
    The song says "Be patient, you're a man, not a rat! Raise your head, go ahead, cross obstacles for love is not readily available"Nightmarish. Human-penis hides away, scared by women, marching on him, demanding erection.In a last move, HE pushes away all the girls who drop their guard and lean back in defeat.
see the musical clips on the french website

Moral / Worldview
Shiang-Chiyi saunters through life everyday, oblivious and unaware of the society functioning around her. She pans the rubble for her keys amid construction work; she digs for her key off the side of an intersection; she scavenges for water bottles from the depths of a public trash can. She does not make an attempt to connect with others and is actually uncomfortable, acting like a five year-old at times. Filmacco
Ennui, idleness, existentialism, solitude, social alienationThe world outside our routine doesn't exist, an indifferent crowd. disconnectedness, impossibility to find a soul mate
Love has disappeared in our society, substitued by a dispassionated (sexual) desir to perform, to own, to dominate.
"Dialog is kept to a minimum -- there are probably less than ten lines in the entire film -- yet as always Tsai manages to say so much without words. As incredible as it is to watch Shiang-chyi and Hsiao-kang's relationship develop non-verbally, the meaning behind their actions (and reactions) during the final sequence is not entirely clear, or at least open to debate. (Surely this is
exactly as Tsai intended, hence all the discussion today.)" Filmbrain
De-erotized physical bodies abandonned to their natural behavior (need/desir out of control) drained from feeling, emptied of emotionality
The absence of love make naked bodies cruder, nudity becomes vile, disgusting, undignified, and de-humanized. Bodies are only vital functions, objects of pulsions, tools for work, consumer goods.
He is an anti-hero, no plan, no ideals, no desir, issues with love and sexuality, inner conflicts, inhibited love, unsatisfied/unaccomplished romance, sexual inadequation, compulsive/mechanical sex, vain repetitiveness.
Coming up next :

1 commentaire:

HarryTuttle a dit…

Jonathan Rosenbaum didn't like the film:

"The first Tsai Ming-liang film I've disliked recycles its predecessors' main actors (Lee Kang-sheng, Chen Shiang-chyi), physical elements (water, Taipei), themes (loneliness, alienation), and stylistic tropes (symmetrical compositions, absence of dialogue). It does offer more lavish musical numbers than The Hole, including choreographed Chinese versions of "Sixteen Tons" and "The Wayward Wind," and two key additions are watermelons and hard-core sex, sometimes used in conjunction. Tsai's obvious disgust at the sex is part of what makes the film so unpleasant; he remains a brilliant original, but this is a parody of his gifts."

The Hole already was a self-derision parody, the musical numbers were totally awkward and killing the contemplative bleak mood of the main narrative with kitsch and burelesque...
That didn't undermine the power of its content. The form is clearly edging with ridicule but it suits even more meaningfully here in The Wayward Cloud, because of the TV-culture theme of pornography. Giving a meltingpot of "bad-taste" material that address our contemporean visual habits of zapping in a visionary way.
I find it quite admirable that Tsai is able to sidestep his own signature style and risk to engage such a difficult topic.