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.
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!
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.