28 mars 2006

Mary (2005/Abel Ferrara)

Contribution to the Ferrara-thon
Mary (2005/Ferrara/Italy/France/USA) +
Opening sequence : Black. From inside the Holy Sepulchre (cave in Jerusalem where Jesus was buried and ressurected), a ray of light gradually tear open the screen as the rock is rolled aside. Mary Magdalene and other women came to embalm the body of their Lord, three days after his crucifixion, and can't find it. They weep in despair. An angel (with prop wings) asks : "Why do you search for the living among the dead?"
(film within the film) This was a scene from the film "This is my blood" adapted from the controversial life of Mary Magdalene. Shot in handheld close ups in a cinéma-vérité-like style, without clean establishing shot. Just a stolen moment, confusing, hard to grasp, we are submerged by the surprise and the sudden emotions.
Cutaway to : Marie Palesi (Juliette Binoche) wearing her costume wakes up from a nightmare, sweating, and rushes to the film set, showing in a long vertical tracking shot across the hill all the backstage forgery of the cinema industry. The lightweight fake-stones, the lighting, cables, everyone is packing, only there she's reminded the film is warpped. She refuses to go back to NYC with the film director Tony Childress (Matthew Modine) and moved by a call of faith she heads off to Jerusalem.

Prompted by an adaptation of the life of Mary Magdalene, Ferrara explores the inner spiritual quest of very different personalities coming from the media industry, not quite the most religious milieu. Sin, forgiveness, redemption, recurrant themes in Ferrara's oeuvre, in a script more feminist than ever. Contrary to Mel Gibson (who is caricatured in Tony Childress for his last controversial religious movie The Passion of The Christ), the biblical epic is only a segment cited in discontinuous flashes along the story set in a contemporean NewYork city. So in fact we learn very little about the titular historical character, and not more about Marie Palesi, the actress lost, out of reach for a year, somewhere in Israel. After the opening sequence, she turns into a distant mythical figure, the illuminated pilgrim touched by grace. Brief glimpses of her, a vanishing silhouette in the crowd of tourists visiting the 2 milleniums old holy sites.

The actual protagonist is Theodore Younger (Forest Whitaker), a famous TV talk show host running an improbable week-long primetime serie of religious debates on the life of Christ. This is not the traditional image of the mainly protestant America, the Bible-belt heartland, mega-churches and preachers shows. Ferrara, is a "catholic who lost his faith" from his own words, catholic in a pure italian tradition. Ted is the link between Marie and Tony, opposite examples of the practice of religion.

3 stereotypes of christian faith, 3 different motives for self-sacrifice:

Marie (Faith of the heart) : naive, emotional, compassionate, empathic, altruistic love. She left everything behind, quit her friends, possessions and milieu. She meets the roots of religion in the Holy Land, just like her inspirational character went on the roads to spread the Good Word by teaching an exemplary life of total devotion, humility, poverty and selflessnes. Quite a change from the traditional way of life of a famous movie star. Her conversion is almost a parable from the Bible. She doesn't intellectualize the religious dogma but can't do no wrong because she believes, without prejudices, fears nor worries, a figure of blissful confidence.
Tony (Faith of the action) : He's a proud unbeliever who believes the end justifies the means thus anything goes, demogoguery, trickery, manipulation, bribes, betrayal. Egotic and ambitious, he believes to be something of a messiah (casting himself in the role of Jesus), to be a martyr of the media boycott and the integrist intolerance, just because the subject of his film is controversial. He overlooks and despises the incredible conversion of his lead actress.
Ted (Faith of the mind) : A skeptical believer who argues great religious questions with clerics and theology experts on his show, while all this intellectual debate has little bearing on his own private life. To him religion is only rhetorics, ideology, a matter of verbal concepts and sound arguments. God is only a source of revenue and fame to him. The strange unexplained faith of Marie will lead his doubts to repentance.

The apocrypha scrolls found in Egypt in 1945, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, questions the establishment of the Catholic Church and the truncated testimonial of the New Testament. Generally considered a prostitute and a sinner saved from stoning by Jesus, Mary Magdalene would be in fact the favorite apostole of Jesus, above Saint Peter, who is the traditional founding father of the exclusive patriarchal, mysoginist Church. In a clip of Childress' film, This is my Blood, Peter and the other apostoles, after the death of Christ, contest that Mary Magdalene received a secret knowledge that the rest of them ignored, initiating the discrediting campaign against her version of the Gospels. A short dialogue, fight for succession and authority, conflict of egos, traducing the longliving institution of the catholic Church to keep absolute control and priviledges of the messages of God.
According to Mary Magdalene, the true meaning of Jesus teaching was to connect spiritual and physical, to found faith on a creative imagination. The real life scholars who studied these controversial documents denied by the Vatican, are the guests featured in Ted's theological debates: Jean-Yves Leloup, who translated the Gospel of Mary in french, and was the religious advisor for the historical portions of Ferrara's film. As well as Elaine Pagels and Amos Luzzatto.

Ferrara determines 3 constructs : Icons, reality and communications.
The iconic images carried out by the film medium, TV news, documentaries, live interviews or computer database. So video, film footage and computer screens are regularly inserted within the film, to formally abstract its content from real life, the main referential construct, where a handful of characters are observed in various places of the globe.
Reality is identified and characterised by its location in the world.
Matera in Italy is the location where Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Gibson's The Passion of the Christ were shot, before Tony Childress shoots This is my Blood. Italy is also the homeland of the Catholic Church at the Vatican. Ironically this location is meant to represent a Jerusalem scenery, forged for the studio trickery.
That's why Marie Palesi runs away from a cinematic fantasy for the real thing in Jerusalem. Israel being the place of everyday bomb terrorism now, a reality check clashing with the poetical allegories of period movies.
And New York city, the base of Ferrara's universe, the home of his characters from where they are partially affected by what is going on at the other side of the world.
The third construct is the telephone/TV communications that create a virtual space of reunion, putting in contact dissociated people like Marie who could only be reach through mobile phone from an undetermined location. The phone also plays a mediator role in mundane lives of close people, like between Ted and his wife, allowing lies, pretense and mystery. Ferrara uses voiceover, parallel montage to show the disconnection induced by this deceiving means of communication.

Now, filming erudit talking heads and showing portions of what could have been a period biopic of Mary Magdalene do not give a moral caution to the rest of the film... The religious statements are merely an excuse to paint human characters with pseudo-existential doubts seeking for a remotely spiritual redemption. All this theatralized in a melodramatic confusion of incidentally collided situations. Despite an ambitious subject and interesting formal ideas, Ferrara's drama is messy and stereotyped.
The core of the film revolves around the adultarous life of Ted, and the coincidental premature delivery of his wife's baby, suggesting all sin carries dreadful repercussions in one's life, like a demonstration to sell faith with the fear of punishment (which is precisely the conservative conception of the Catholic Church opposed to the humanist approach to religion proposed by Mary Magdalene's inheritance).
"Stop cheating on your wife or your baby dies" suggests heavily the plot without bringing answers to the moral test.
"Go to Hell!" shouts Elizabeth (Heather Graham) on the phone to his unfaithful (in both meanings) husband because he can't excuse him neglecting her since she's pregnant. This interracial couple is another cheap way for Ferrara to aggravate a scandalous polemic.
The baby's fate is connected in a parallel montage with an explosion in Israel and a bomb alert in the NYC theatre where Childress premiered his new film, confronting the existential crisis of the 3 characters simultaneously as if provoked by the wrath of God. Under such drastic circumstances, blaming past wrongdoings, last-chance introspection and self-sacrifice sound more like convenient superstition than a genuine leap of faith.
Theodore Younger sleeps with Gretchen Mol (Marion Cotillard), actress friend of Mary Palesi, just to get the phone number to get her on his show the very same week!
In a ridicule "thrilling" scene, Ted and Tony, dealing a pact of mutual mediatic profit at the back of a limo, are violently assaulted by a gang of integrist thugs (awkward mix of black gangstas, hasidic jews and conservative christians) and Ted walks out like a hero and puts his TV celebrity person in harm's way to save Tony from this unjust hatred with his bare hands... The stones thrown at the limo to kill Tony are an obvious reference to the mob sentence of Mary Magdalene in the Bible, placing Theodore in the role of Jesus who saves the victim ("He who never sinned shall cast the first stone")
This much melodrama just doesn't solidify an already dubious empiricist religious demonstration.

Few more notes on the allegory of cinema in Ferrara's vision of the world:
  • The opening sequence plays on the possible confusion between a dream and a film, right before reminding us that it's all an illusion by filming the technical backstage of a movie set.
  • The arguable commitment of an actress for her role having physical impacts on her sanity (Method acting, identification, schizophrenia...), especially with spiritual roles, refering to other famous cases (like Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc). Exagerrated/false involvement of megalomaniac actors who wind up believing they can become the character they play. Difficulties to differentiate fiction and reality.
  • The role of media images in our society, cited as hard evidences. Forgery and manipulation of images for marketing purposes. Dichotomy of the meaning of the image created by the artist and the understanding of the received image by the public, leading to vain controversy. Limits of the freedom of expression (1st Amendment shield for moral provocations). Arguable honesty/integrity of the auteur in his/her work.
  • A powerful scene of Tony Childress who locks himself in the projection booth while the theatre is evacuated because of the bomb alert, because he believes in his film and wants his premiere to carry on, he launch the projection himself in an empty auditorium. Maybe an grim symbol of the ultimate solitude endured by a filmmaker once the film is done, a sentiment of isolation from the audience and from the mediatic buzz...

In a cinema era without creativity should we acclaim a film for the unusual ambition of its content while its making is so lame? A good script full of interesting concepts pre-exists the film but doesn't guarantee it's achievement. Using cheap melodrama tricks and push-button emotions to enact a powerful story undermines its reception and lead us to question the original quality of the ideas that couldn't come across in a more honest way. Melodrama is a great form of entertainment as long as it doesn't take itself too seriously by trying to deal with or solve bigger-than-life moral issues... Either Ferrara wants to move us with the daily lives of characters in conflicts with themselves and failing to relate to others, or he wants to take on major concerns such as a critique of The Bible, the history of faith or the Israel-Palestine conflict... loaded underdevelopped issues that encumber his plot.
Grand Special Jury Prize - Venice 2005
(s) ++ (w) + (m) ++ (i) + (c) ++
Also check out about this film :

23 mars 2006

The Wayward Cloud (4/4)



Why Tsai meant to conclude his film by this infamous porn scene?

Over one year already since The Wayward Cloud premiered at Berlin 2005, and that the guys at Rouge (Helen Bandis, Adrian Martin, Grant McDonald) produced a great shot-by-shot analysis (with screen captures) of the last sequence that caused so much controversy and perplexity.
Check it out there, and come back here for my own additional notes on their close reading, as I will not repeat everything they say (which is very pertinent). So the parallel reading of both interpretations is required.

Shot-by-shot spoiler analysis. MATURE content.
(the two lead protagonists are named HE and SHE for clarity)

Shot 1

The composition of the image, high angle slightly slanted, isolates HE and the japanese actress in different squares (frame within the frame) traced by the grate.
Symbolism of the grate (The Hole/Vagina/TV)
I'd add another grate occurance in the shape of the net hung in the stairwell where HE sleeps in a fetal position. This is a transitory shift of the grate symbol, horizontal in The Hole: the erotized peephole between HE (voyeur) upstairs and SHE, naked, downstairs, until they can connect physically through the enlarged hole. The upstairs/downstairs junction is also affirmed earlier in The Wayward Cloud when SHE contemplates the blue sky painted on her bedroom ceiling, where a round cloud stands for a symbolic hole through which descend orgasmic noises from the porn movie shot above.
Same motif in Vive L'Amour, Lee Kang-Sheng was under the bed, looking up and listening to the couple making love right over his head.
In The Wayward Cloud the peephole is vertical, between SHE (voyeur) in the lobby, and HE, naked, in the bedroom performing porno. The vagina symbol will become more obvious later.

Shot 2

The cardboard girls standing in the lobby with SHE are a lifeless observer from an indifferent outside world. This society that never interacts with the stylized world of these protagonists (the whole film is rather deserted). Their smile is fake and contrasts with HER distress as if mocking her about-to-happen scene of adultary/jealousy (reminding the hysterical laughters imagined at the church by the paranoid protagonist in Buñuel's El).
Maybe these cardboard silhouettes represent the laughing audience we are with the prescience of what SHE refuses to believe until she'll see it for real happening before her very eyes.

Shot 3

The most graphic sequence of the film couldn't be de-erotized more. The girl is numb, like a blow-up doll animated by a grip. A direct reference to an extreme form of pornography and urban myth: snuff-movies. The girl could be dead or raped under a sleep-drug. Although the cameraman shoots up close to pretend she's active (and alive) in the porno movie they make.
Tsai stands out, differenciating himself from the porn crew and making his film more disgusting than theirs. In the first nurse scene with the watermelon, there is only one camera, Tsai was the porn director, we saw onscreen exactly what the porn cameraman shoots. Later in the shower, Tsai steps back like a documentarian to show onscreen the crew working on the porno set. Then he places his camera inside the action (scene when the japanese girl lost the bottle cap). Ultimately Tsai shoots his own X-rated movie staging a voyeur girl on a shooting set.

Shot 4

The judgemental social witness incarnated by the cardboard girls (China Airlines) gradually disappear behind SHE, who literally upstages them, as HER onscreen size outgrows theirs.
SHE positions herself near the peephole, which from her side is a symbolic TV screen. The very TV set SHE was riveted to in the previous sequence when SHE discovered the japanese girl and HE performed porn on a DVD.
The political backdrop reunites here in the same room the two empires (China and Japan) claiming Taiwan, the little dragon. Like for Hou Hsiao-hsien in Three Times, love is impossible for the taiwanese couple throughout ages because of the political oppression. An island where people are sexual products.

Shot 5

SHE discovers live porn for the first time (she might be virgin too). HE is off-screen, so this composition tells us she only looks at the girl for the moment. A porn actress represented from a very feminist perspective : woman turned into sexual object, without consent, subdued, manipulated by pervert men. An extreme characterization of a freaky porno set, surreal, symbolized, like only would happen in a bad dream.

Shot 6

A key shot that formalizes the partition of their universe, innocence v. brutality, female v. male. Again the characterization of both gender is extreme, totally stereotyped. Although without feeling a self-conscious difference between their behavior they still stare at eachothers, reaching out through this wall-frontier without leaving their own milieu (each on their side of the wall). HE moves closer to the grate, thanks to this ingenious mise-en-scène the limp girl is hidden behind the wall and all we see is HE fornicating with the wall right next to SHE.
SHE was a voyeur in front of TV earlier, then through the grate, yet after this eye-contact SHE is now involved in the action and became an active participant in the show, developping in the next shot.

Shot 7-15

The reverse-shot alternation removes the wall from the stage composition. SHE watches through the grate, and HE is being looked at by someone behind a grate. Both sides are subjectivized. The grate bars HER face, meaning the grate is not equally distant from each, SHE is the one about to break through the fence.
Eye-to-eye, they emotionally connect with a naked truth into this intense regard. Still no shame, no embarasment, no guilt, as the action continues to take place around them (at this point there is no exchange between the 2 sides, except visually). A hypnotic curiosity instead. The close up on HE puts all the rest out of focus : it's only about the tension between them in a tunnel effect, the rest doesn't matter.
Both slowly open their mouth simultaneously. SHE begins to simulate the moaning of an orgasm. HE who was quite dispassionate in the performance of this non-simulated intercourse, is finally turned on with HER help. SHE sits her head on the grate, now making a move towards him in sign of reconciliation both physicaly and emotionaly.

The formal shift along this sequence moved from a judgmental distance when SHE considered the pornographic act in an impersonal way (HE out of frame, shot 5), then fully brought to her awareness his nature and his job. In an instant, and one sequence she took herself through the stages of jealousy, denial, shock, anger, indifference, frustration, curiosity and arrousal. In a way this scene is an express shortcut to forgiveness and acceptance of his job, nature, and gender (reconciliation of the sexual duality described in my last post allowing connection). I see this infamous epilog, and the whole film to some extant, as a symbolic confrontation of antagonist/complementary natures of male/female sexuality.

Shot 16-21

As noted on Rouge, the crew is gone off-screen for good now. They disappeared visually but also are disposed of their role that validated until now the realism of the porn film metaphor. The reconciliation consumed in the previous shots, the film focuses on the couple again, alone.
HE v. SHE >>> HE & SHE.
Wider shot with an odd angle, low and slanted, that isolates the grate on the wall (in a composition reminding more than ever a shot from The Hole) to relocate the junction between appartments separated by a locked door (vagina).
As SHE continues to moan, HE formalizes the vagina symbol of the peephole by literaly fucking the grate, like a glory hole. Which happens to be SHE's open mouth too, simulating a vagina for the male's fantasy. The serie of close-up's on either side of the grate, removes the wall once again from the composition, to isolate only the 2 protagonists in the position of a vertical fellatio.
From HE's side, the composition emphasizes the hole as a vagina, as he stands alone face to the wall, his penis into the grate.From SHE's side, the composition emphasizes the fellatio, HER face stuck in HIS pubic hair. It's like if the penis of the porn movie she was watching earlier on DVD came out of the screen in 3D and in flesh, which corresponds to what Freud called the "penis envy" (woman's fantasy to retrieve this member they are deprivated of).
A tear rolls on HER face (its meaning could go both ways? ecstatic relief or self-pity shame). The shoe she held in her hand throughout the sequence (that belongs the the japanese actress), is dropped to the floor as she's stunned by what just happened.
Rebirth of HE's sexual emotion, desir and real orgasm with a true ejaculation (unmistakenly suggested on screen).

This whole sequence lingers long enough on this uncomfortable pornographic act. I admit not to understand why Tsai insists to hold on this last image some more.

Shot 23

Another odd wider low angle that could pass as a look up to the pierced ceiling in The Hole. The parallel I meant to draw between the two films is they end in a very similar way, only with the function of protagonists reversed.
In The Hole, HE was obsessed with this hole in the floor with a very erotic exploration. And this scene from The Hole is getting really pornographic (with hindsights of The Wayward Cloud symbolism): he intruded things in, stuck his arm and his leg, just like he penetrated it with his penis here in The Wayward Cloud.
The Hole closes on an enlarged opening through which HE lifts SHE to his appartment. But we don't see them making out. The conclusion in The Wayward Cloud is initiated by the other gender (SHE) this time, with entirely explicited symbols in plain view. Although the bodies are separated by a wall, and the sexual relationship (if accomplished and shown by Tsai before the film ends) is only oral, which makes the statement of a dominated woman deprived of climax to the sole benefit of the male pleasure. Not quite a fully realized romantic ending yet.
The former film represents the awarness of a man to a female's sexuality (symbolized, timid, passive, foreplay), the latter the awareness of a woman to a male's sexuality (graphic, physical, agressive). Both stereotypes and symbolized.

Like when she meets HE asleep on the swing (first encounter), she meets her (sexual) rival unconscious. The inner reaction can develops without having to face her eyes and engage in the interpersonal argument that would take place if they were able to insult eachother.
Only the unconsciousness (or symbolic death) of the "other woman" (japanese actress) could make the revelation of HE's porno job possible and bearable. She is able to ignore her, and forgives in order to establish contact with him, on his (sexual) territory.

What's remarkable is how Tsai manages to stick to a silence treatment of his drama even in the most outraging situation, leaving the image and the mise-en-scène deal with the simmering emotions. Characters never resort to words to resolve their inner conflict (anger, jealousy, worry, questions, doubts), only bodies and body functions attempt to signify an answer.

I think all of these 'removals' are perfectly synthesized in the end scene, and then of course broken through, as Lee and Chen 'break through' the screen (I'd say the grate is meant to stand in, in one sense, for a TV or computer display -- cf. Chen's proximity only minutes earlier to the TV screen when the Japanese girl is laying on her floor, and the warping of the image given the perspective of the camera angle), -as much as is possible-. It's every porn viewer's wish, or mental image, that they be 'present' at the act. Craig Keller


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 :

10 mars 2006


I've postponed writing about new films until I had finished the Wayward Cloud critique but it failed to hurry the process. Writing alone is not my thing. Leaving disordered notes will be easier hopefully. Also I tried to focus on collective interactive discussions instead of unilateral blog statements, which was unsuccessful as well.
Too much films to discover at a time, too much topics going on to comment, and too little time to commit... I made watching the films a priority so I'm a bad blogger.

Marguerite Duras died 10 years ago, on March 3rd 1996. Her abstracted directing style is rather unique. I've seen only a few and I can't really understand her point but I'm interested to find out more about her peculiar contribution to the cinematic language. So I couldn't write anything substential in a blog entry, however I'd like to read what other people have to say about it and discuss the possible interpretations on an informal forum.
Calling for participants in a tribute to Duras filmography on The Cinema Roundtablers forum. Please meet me there, to link to critical study material available online or in print and comment her films.

Special thanks to Katie MacLean for the new banner design of my blog!