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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

entry arrow3:46 PM | Silence, Stillness, and Connection in a Crumbling World

Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone [2006] is my introduction to the Malaysian director's oeuvre, and I am deeply shamed. Where have I been cinema-wise the past few years? In college, I used to know the latest currents of world cinema so well, and now I only have this wasteland of unawareness, and I hate playing catch-up. Thank God then for this time in Iowa. In any case, I was startled by the audacity of this film, which carries the poetic sensibility of Yasujir┼Ź Ozu and the found story aesthetics of Armando Lao. This is a silent film that masquerades as a movie with sound -- and so one must learn to appreciate it in the way its images unfold, which is not hard to do since the cinematography is breathtaking, even if the landscape it depicts is that of the underbelly of Kuala Lumpur. Lao's protegee Brillante Mendoza has done similar work in Serbis [2008] -- e.g., the long-takes, the brilliant use of ambient noise, and the quietly observant camera that takes in the poetry of decrepitude -- which in fact has a cousin in Tsai's Goodbye, Dragon Inn [2003], both of which tell the stories of crumbling cinemas as a reflection of the riptide of turbulence in Asian society. The only difference between Mendoza and Tsai is the latter's preference for silence and stillness.

Silence and stillness. Those are good words to describe I Don't Want to Be Alone, which signals Tsai's return to filmmaking in Malaysia after a career that has mostly burgeoned in Taiwan. I came to this title thinking that it would give me an idea of how another Asian nation, this time Malaysia, would tackle a gay story. (I am undertaking an unofficial research of Asian pink cinema, I have no idea why.) But I don't think I can label this gay at all, although the filmmaker is certainly openly gay. Yes, there is tenderness in the way the Bangladeshi undocumented worker cares for the mauled Chinese man, but there is no overt sexuality here. In fact, the most overt sexual situation occurs between the Chinese man and the lady boss and later, the waitress who works for her. Near the end, there is also the brief gesture of tenderness between the two men -- but I don't know what to make of that. I can say though that, in the film, there is only a limning of that universal search for connection in a brutal world. And what to make of that enigmatic end? I have no idea, but it reminds me of the puzzles in the last shots in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] and Michael Haneke's Cache [2005]. I guess the images are there for us to ponder and ponder some more, and so I shall do just that.

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