‘Days’ Review: A Taiwanese Auteur in a Quiet Mode
Writing on punk band Ramones, critic Robert Christgau said their music “revealed how much you can take away while having rock and roll.” With his new film “Days”, Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang reveals how much you can take advantage of a fictional feature film while having cinema.
An opening text says something that raises eyebrows: “This film is intentionally unsubtitled. The film then presents a shot of Lee Kang-sheng, an actor practically omnipresent in Tsai’s filmography, seen through a window, slumped in a chair. Outside, a storm is raging; the reflected tree branches plunge and sway. In a hallway used, at risk, for cooking, actor Anong Houngheuangsy cleans vegetables and prepares soup.
The two men are initially depicted behind barriers, and often continue to be. And after about 35 minutes, we hear the film’s first dialogue – some weak, rambling exchanges during a mugwort-burning acupuncture session for Lee, afflicted with a condition that also puts him in a neck brace for a spell.
It’s a slow paced movie. It’s a little over two hours, and has, by my count, less than 60 strokes. Considering this, and from the realistic and insistent point of view of the camera on the ground, one could say that “Days” makes the legendary “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” by Chantal Akerman look like “The Dark Knight Rises ”. But this is not strictly the case.
Tsai’s motivations for stretching his plans become clear after a while, and the film creates an odd vibe. For much of the film, Anong and Lee don’t represent so much characters as bodily entities in physical space. A photo of a building with shattered reflective surfaces shows you the fantastic and the marvelous of everyday life.
The photo reunites Anong and Lee, for a massage session that gains in erotic intensity for more than 10 minutes. In the process, Lee gives Anong a music box whose air is reminiscent of a piece of cinema both classic and classic. And the last two shots of the film, in which its performers are now miraculously rendered as fully human, are among the most striking evocations of the silent angst of loneliness that any form of cinema can offer.
Unclassified. Duration: 2 hours 7 minutes. In Mandarin with subtitles. In theaters.
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