While never-ending rain and a strange disease spread by cockroaches ravage Taiwan, a plumber makes a hole between two apartments and the inhabitants of each form a unique connection, enacted in musical numbers.
Tsai Ming-liang returns with this latest entry in his Walker series, in which his monk acquires an unexpected acolyte in the form of Denis Lavant as he makes his way through the streets of a sun-dappled Marseille.
Famed Taiwanese auteur Ming-liang Tsai ventures into France to deliver a love poem to the works of Truffaut in the form of an opaque slow- flowing visual poem, devoid of a conventional story, instead harbouring its message of collages of images. The slight frame of the script focuses on the filming of a movie by a foreign director (Kang-sheng Lee), arguably the most proclaimed participant of a quasi-plot. Intertwining with him are the cast and crew of the movie, with Truffaut's favourite actor Jean- Pierre Léaud as the lead man, Fanny Ardent as the film's producer and Laetitia Casta as the co-star.
"Visage" however detaches itself from indulging into a flowing story to tell, instead building the entire movie around carefully designed set- pieces with jump from image to image. The camera is mostly static, peering in from the outside on the actions of the cast, as if eavesdropping and voyeuristically capturing the moment. However, whatever happens outside these moments is irrelevant, forcing the viewer to arduously fill in the dots, a task that in the movies taxing runtime may prove too strenuous for most viewers, even to the cinephile crowd so in love with the odd and unexpected.
The movies is constructed from these captured moving images, slow shots with little to no dialogue with moments of musical outbursts, when characters lip-sync to various songs. Several moments have you especially captivated, the highlight being in the beginning sequences, when a static camera peers into the director's kitchen and observes his futile attempts to clog a drain, finally resigning to the inevitable and resting at his mother's bedside in an awkward quasi-incestuous scene. These wackier, off-beat scenes manage to liven up the otherwise laborious proceedings, but the movie shifts focus slowly to more darker imagery with a sexual culmination in a abattoir as eerily disgusting as it was distasteful. Each such scene of this fragmented movie lasts several minutes, thus utterly deflating a casual viewer and even leaving the more auteur crowd grasping at straws to admire. The imagery is at times starkly captivating, with certain moments fully worth the watch from a purely aesthetic point of view. Nonetheless the visual side in itself fails to engulf for vast periods of time, instead capturing imagination on-and-off.
The entire movie is also unfortunately a black box, which requires all the appropriate background input to deliver any type of understanding to the ongoings. The type of movie where any self-respecting film critic would never dare say that he failed to understand the references and symbolism, thus giving him an intellectual ordeal to paste together the scenes. Thankfully the long scenes offer apt possibilities to contemplate each passing portrait, given you don't nod off in the midst. Personally I felt lost in translation, even if vast elements struck a cord, the overall message remained an enigma, not helped by my attention constantly dropping in-and-out of the movie. As such I can fully understand certain auteurs finding the viewing a hard-worked pleasure, but overall I hold the firm belief that whereas movies should be challenging, they should also not require the audience to strain to just keep awake during the watch. As a medium it needs to be engaging, not a painful chore, pure artistry and intellectual proficiency is not enough.
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