Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Films of 2006

Between Tsai Ming Liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and Bruno Dumont’s Flanders--as well as other recent films like Manufactured Landscapes and, I gather, Babel and A Mighty Heart, though I haven’t seen the last two—a sense starts to emerge that globalization is changing the idea of what it means to be a protagonist of history. In the western films, western citizens occupy the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” non-perspective, and show signs of an incipient realization that they displace and consume history without being of serious concern to it; that, in an imaginary, omniscent representation of contemporary history, they wouldn’t appear at all. Tsai and Dumont have been interested throughout their careers in silence and enigma, and both I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and Flanders are nearly silent, but only Flanders is mute. In Tsai’s film, which seems to have been received reverently at every festival, people don’t converse because they don’t speak the same language; in Dumont’s, it’s because they have no vocabulary for what’s happening. I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone makes it seem as though there’s really nothing, no matter how subtle or deep, that needs words to be conveyed; communicating depends not on the difference between verbalizations and actions—or between these and other modes such as music—but on whether or not they’re offered in the hope of being interpreted. The protagonists of Flanders are working class victims of an aborted industrialization that appears to have rolled through the Belgian countryside and kept going without being understood by anybody. If the men aren’t interested in knowing the name of the country to which they’re going off to war, it’s partly for the same reason that they’re anxious to go, because anywhere will offer more of a vista than there. Their incomprehension in strange surroundings is actually less than their incomprehension at home. Dumont comes close to suggesting that, at least for the surviving protagonist, the point of the war is to furnish an external incentive to confess to his girlfriend that he loves her, a love that is inevitable and obvious in any case to everyone but them. When she asks him what it was really like over there, he answers but we don’t get to hear, as if the impossibility of articulation were the film’s even more than his. Dumont expresses that the limited possibility for expression is the only thing that it remains his charge to express (maybe this has been going on for a while in a lot of western literature, e.g., nouveau roman); Tsai, that destitute and stateless people are having vertiginous experiences that are not traumatic—even if they’re of suffering—in the sense that they are there to have their own experiences.

Image: Lee Kang-Sheng in I Don't Want to Sleep Alone

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