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Synecdoche, New York
The Wayward Cloud
Dillinger is Dead
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce...
Last Year At Marienbad
Eyes Wide Shut
Cleo from 5 to 7
F for Fake
Touch of Evil
Pierrot le Fou
The Passion of Anna
Even Dwarfs Started Small
A torinói ló (2011)
Philosophy is Dead: The Turin Horse
I finally watched The Turin Horse recently. I had been meaning to get around to it for a long time. After seeing Damnation, which just didn't really click with me, I think I may have have subconsciously lowered The Turin Horse's priority level in my viewing schedule. However, the movie really worked for me. The last couple nights I couldn't sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about it. I never seemed to ever drift fully into sleep. I would kind of doze off, still thinking about it, only to quickly be aroused by my own thoughts and immediately struggle to try to fall back asleep.
The film was in many ways similar to Jeanne Dielman. It shows the overwhelming claustrophobia of a daily routine. How just making it through the basic chores necessary to live can be almost unbearable. It could become impossible to accomplish anything more, let alone find a way to assign some sort of meaning to our lives. But beyond that, it also had a significant underlying theme about class systems and a certain ease of life which allows us to become intellectuals.
Nietzsche had the luxury of being destroyed by his own philosophy. He had the luxury of feeling sympathy for the beaten horse. However, when that very horse is your livelihood and the ability to make it through life is barely possible and completely reliant upon that animal's compliance, the abstract philosophies sort of fade away. Sometimes the harsh realities of the world nullify philosophy. Even if it was coming from the "right" place.
There is a Louis C.K. joke in which he talks about the fact that he doesn't believe in hitting his children, even though his mother used to hit him. He notes that the difference is that he is wealthy and his mother wasn't. She couldn't afford the luxury of the moral high ground. She was tired and needed the most immediately effective option available. The same concept applies to the farmer's situation with the horse. In neither C.K.'s joke nor in Béla Tarr's film is this a justification. It is simply revealing that life is more complicated than our philosophies allow for.
The final aspect of the film which mystifies me are the meta-cinematic elements. The film is a bleak, pessimistic, and starkly final film. It is in many ways an antithesis to the slight beacons of hope offered in his earlier films. It is a film about giving up. Which is exactly what Tarr has done. He's given up making films. The horse quits working, eating, and living. The girl eventually gives up living. Even the earth appears to have given up. Life is over. The sun refuses to shine, lamps refuse to light, water wells refuse to give water. Tarr refuses to make more movies. There is nothing left to say. Philosophy is dead. Cinema is over. They've been snuffed out by what Tarr calls "the heaviness of human existence." All that remains is existing in a void of meaninglessness. However, even that seems nearly finished.
Tian bian yi duo yun (2005)
The Wayward Cloud reveals the possibilities of the narrative form.
The founder of the "new novel" and screenwriter for Last Year at Marienbad Alain Robbe-Grillet said: "A new form will always seem more or less an absence of any form at all, since it is unconsciously judged by reference to the consecrated forms." This is certainly true of the films of Tsai Ming-Liang, and The Wayward Cloud is one of his most daring attacks on traditional cinematic form yet. We follow two characters: Hsiao-kang (the same protagonist as in eight of Tsai's nine features. Acting as an "Antoine Doinel" for our modern age of isolation and loneliness) and Shiang-chyi as his would be lover. The two however, are doomed never to celebrate their love for each other fully. Our two protagonists never express themselves with words, and don't speak more than one sentence each throughout the film. Both sentences come when they see each other for the first time since Tsai's previous film What Time is it There?
Tsai's work within the Contemporary Contemplative Cinema paradigm is essential, because he has elevated the process to be more than simply a rejection of the sheep-like adherence to standard narrative techniques, but also the best possible means of expression of the themes and philosophy he is interested in exploring. The events of The Wayward Cloud unfold the way they do because it's the only way they can unfold for them to have any meaning. The style is informed by the content of the film. The rejection of dialogue, the refusal to cut, the wariness of close- ups, the static "objective" camera informs our understanding of the themes.
The entire film is about emptiness. The characters lives are empty, the decrepit building they live in is empty, the version of Taipei they live in is empty (even as the news story on t.v. hints at a larger population somewhere) the images they are framed in are empty, and the majority of the time they spend in the movie is empty. They are seen sleeping on park benches, laying on the floor, smoking cigarettes, walking down endless hallways, and taking long elevator rides. There are five scenes throughout the film which are not empty and all five of the scenes happen to be musical numbers. These numbers serve as a sort of internal monologue for our two protagonists, and then curiously for two minor characters who share a total of about 6 minutes of screen time and are Hsiao-kang's partners in two different porn shoots he works on.
When the film shows its teeth in the disturbing final minutes, the audience is not prepared. With so much of the film revolving around the banality of existence in a lonely empty world, and at best the minor joys which come from things such as a cigarette or cooking live crabs, it is shocking for a major life event to actually take place. This allows for maximum reflexivity among the audience and also introduces a rare visceral element to the film. What once seemed cold, seems bright by comparison. The reading of the ending is something few people can agree on. The seemingly violent sexual contact is off-putting, but could be read as a joyful release for two characters who clearly belong together. However, the manner of their sexual joining is so distinctly not "correct." Their only sexual contact is through a hole in a wall, at once allowing them the connection they so desire, but reinforcing the disconnect which been present throughout the film.
The bittersweet connection seems to have more bitter than sweet, bringing Hsiao-kang back to his lonely isolated contemporary world filled with empty frames and empty time. It is fitting that the final image is one of the most empty framing wise, and one of the longest feeling shots time-wise in the entire film.
The Wayward Cloud is a film which both stands on it's own terms as a significant work within an important movement in the redefining of narrative cinema, and as a learning tool when it comes to understanding that redefinition. It's an important exploration of the narrative form which has held steady for much too long, and in recent years has seemed more than ever to be hitting the apex of possible regurgitations.
Claims that cinema is dead are nothing new, but have been becoming louder and more vehement among film purists in recent years. They are silly. Cinema cannot be dead when films such as this exist as proof that narrative cinema has yet to be explored to its fullest potential. If we have yet to even fully explore narrative, then we certainly have quite a ways to go before cinema as a whole is used up. This film and indeed the CCC movement overall, are a beacon of hope for the medium.