By Mónica Delgado
Malayan filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang begins his new film Days (Rizi) with a text: “This film doesn’t have subtitles intentionally”. This warning provoked laughter in the room of Berlinale Palast, in the middle of a press showing. It wasn’t a little thing, specially since days before, Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho made a defense of subtitling at the Golden Globes Award, as a symbol of openness to certain cinema outside of Hollywood. Thus, Tsai’s mention stops being merely informative, to cement even more this sort of mini-statement of his proposal (and of all his cinema in general, if you want), in a bet for a cinema in pure state, of sounds that go beyond hearing dialogues in stories where sometimes contents are more valued that that something which images hide or orders in themselves.
After Stray Dogs (2013), Ming-liang returns at the official competition of Berlinale, in a physical love story told through beautiful fixed shots. The movement is slowly perceptible in some scenes, through the fall of rain and it’s reflection in a window, or a pan placed in a fire. Little by little, the filmmaker shows the two sides that he’ll unite, where the spaces where his two characters start from, a medium-class man who suffers of physical illnesses, played by his fetish actor Lee Kang-sheng, and the debutant Thai actor Anong Houngheuangsy, who’s plays a character from a lower class.
Different fixed shots and very distanced ellipsis. Tsai proposes a way of healing through the character of Lee Kang-sheng, as a being in state of malaise who finds salvation in the character of the masseuse. Two characters who find each other and separate, where the gift of a music box, with certain music that evokes a film of Charles Chaplin, becomes the matter of memory and lost love.
Through very dilated shots, we assist to the process of Lee Kang-sheng’s pain, who suffers from grave problems in his back, and who goes through chaotic treatments of acupuncture or suction cups, useless, to then find himself in a Bangkok hotel, with the Thai masseuse, whom he will find a place of warmth and calm. The union of the bodies as a supreme state of affinity, where there’s a possibility of sublime and unforgettable feelings.
As spectators, we deliver ourselves to these times and long shots, to these scenes concentrated in detailing quotidian and simple actions, and where, without words, we assist to an encounter of pure bodies, where delivery and finitude is indispensable. A touching film, from a demanding and different way to achieve commotion in times of hyper-visuality.
Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Cinematography: Chang Jhong-Yuan
Editor: Chang Jhong-Yuan
Sound Design: Dennis Tsao
Producer: Claude Wang
Cast: Lee Kang-Sheng (Kang), Anong Houngheuangsy (Non)