Day 8 – Vive l’Amour (Ming-liang)

Time for a bit of love on the second advent. Or maybe not, because Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive l’Amour (1994) is, as all of his other films, not exactly uplifting. But let’s start from the beginning.

Vive l’Amour stands, with Rebels of the Neon God (1992), at the beginning of Tsai’s career. The film was made almost 20 years ago, and when I saw it it reminded me of something Béla Tarr said (I think it was him, but I can be very wrong here): I always make the same film.

It is not so much that Tsai makes the same film over and over again, but if you are familiar with all of his films, you begin to notice the similarities of all of them. It is not only the actor, Kang-Sheng Lee, who appears in every one of his films (who made an impressive appearance in Walker). It is also the themes that remain the same. I mentioned in previous blog posts that poverty is a major issue in Slow Cinema. This is not the case in Tsai’s films. What is striking in his work is the treatment and depiction of loneliness and longing.

Vive l’Amour (1994), Tsai Ming-liang

To my surprise, I had difficulties labelling Vive l’Amour as a straightforward slow film, even though I know that it is often listed as one. I wondered whether I have perhaps become too used to slowness in film that it has become hard for me to judge if something is exceptionally slow, or just “normal” (as in, normal speed like in real life). The film is not a fast film, but I find it faster than his other films. Considering Tsai’s development as a director, his films have over time become slower and also more photographic. L’Amour is not photographic at all, an element that I found specially interesting in his other films such as I don’t want to sleep alone (2006).

There is also more movement in L’Amour than in his other films. Again, this is not to say that the film is fast. I’m merely trying to point out differences in filmmaking that are evident. Tsai has, however, already included his seeming obsession with tight corridors and double framing. And his love for melons!

Vive l’Amour (1994), Tsai Ming-liang

Already, his characters are suffering from loneliness, and even though there is, as usual, sex involved in his films, there is actually little intimacy between the characters. Whenever I watch Tsai’s films, I cannot help but think of a poem by Alfred Wolfenstein, a German poet, whose vivid Städter from 1913 describes the gradual isolation and loneliness of people living in (big) urban spaces. For me, every film by Tsai is an illustration of this poem, an illustration of how cramped urban spaces encourage anonymity and solitude instead of social living. But even though people choose to live in solitude, they long for love and social interaction. This discrepancy naturally causes problems, and Tsai is a director who has picked up this issue time and again, and made some wonderful films out of it.

Day 1 – Vivan las Antipodas (Kossakovsky)

With Vivan las Antipodas, Russian director Victor Kossakovsky has created quite a stunning portrait of differences and similarities between different points on Earth. I’m not trying to explain what antipodes are, I wouldn’t be very good at it. Instead, you only get the wikipedia definition:

In geography, the antipodes … of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it.

In his film, Kossakovsky opposes four antipodes that are actually inhabited (most antipodes can be found in oceans as 97% of the planet is covered by water): Argentina and China, Spain and New Zealand, Hawaii and Botswana, and Chile and Russia.

Aesthetically, the film is slow, though I wouldn’t quite categorise it as a part of Slow Cinema the way I study it. This is mainly due to the camera movements, and the fairly widespread use of music, which tends to be traditional to the specific country we are in. If it weren’t for the musical interludes, this film would make a stunning photographic album of wonderful landscape images (I spoke about the effects of music in an earlier post).

Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky
Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky

It would exceed the limit of my usually fairly short entries to cover all four of the antipodes. They are all incredible, and reminded me of how important it is in slow film that the cinematographer has a photographic eye. Without it, I would be less inclined to think a film in a slow-film way.

Anyway, let me comment briefly on one aspect of the film; a decisive and explicit one that stands for slow film as a whole, in particular the films I’m studying. The interest here is the opposition of Entre Rios, a rural area in Argentina, and Shanghai in China. The contrast can’t be more startling. The film opens in Entre Rios. It appears to be in the middle of nowhere. Two men (father and son?) charge people who use their makeshift bridge over a river. They spend their days waiting for cars to come. The few cars that do appear here and there are in a poor state. You get a good idea of the living standards. Also through the images of the bridge and the house the two men appear to live in. Life is slow, even for the viewer.

Until we reach Shanghai, via a strange floating camera movement (that over the course of the entire film made me sea sick). We leave the (slow) rural life behind, and are thrown into a bustling urban space. Fittingly, the first thing we see is a strange upside down scene with cars racing on a motorway. So much for slowness! We are also presented with crammed frames, full of people, bicycles, smog, high-rise buildings.

Vivan las Antipodas (Kossakovsky)
Vivan las Antipodas, Kossakovsky

The contrast can’t be bigger. And as I pointed out, these are important things in my research. The importance of the rural in the evocation of slowness. At the same time, the importance of developing countries for the output of Slow Cinema, whether as depicted subjects, or as filmmaking nations. All this is there in the first 25min. Some of my ideas right there, on screen. Good to see it!