25 December 2008

Vive L'amour

Vive L'amour is an old film by Tsai Ming-Liang. It's probably a good platform to develop your understanding of his visual aesthetics and politics before you graduate to his more complex films such as I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. The plot centres around three characters (two men and one woman) whose lives intersect in an empty apartment. We don't know much about these characters in terms of their past, but we gradually understand their mental conditions, which are fundamentally similar in that they are all lost, alienated souls living in a city that suffers from interminable development and consumption.

The woman works as an estate agent, while the two men are homeless salesmen and illegally share an empty apartment. One of them sells a columbarium (a room with niches or shelves made to store cinerary urns) -- something typically Far Eastern; the other sells clothes on the pavement. I think for those of you who read de Certeau will adore this film as it puts into play his theory of strategy and tactic. The space of an empty apartment waiting for lawful tenants is usurped by two loners who barely have money but manage to pass themselves off as 'commoners'. They don't look like vagabonds so people don't suspect. On the contrary, the estate agent lives in a rather shabby apartment, presumably her own lawful place.

But this film is not only about physical space, but also how space shapes the mentality of the characters. These characters roam the cityspace, both in daytime and nighttime. But they don't belong to the urban space which empties them out. Symbolically, they may perhaps be compared to those urns stored separately in different niches in a big columbarium. Their lives intersect but they barely connect spiritually. Sex doesn't function as a remedy, but only as a source of pleasure that eventually confirms their difference. Like I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, the mattress functions as both a spiritual and physical sanctuary, but a temporary one at that.

The ending of the film may be surprising to some, yet for those Tsai Ming-Lian fans it's typical. We are shown a scene of the estate agent crying for a solid six minutes and twenty-five seconds. Nothing more. A requiem for the lost urban soul, perhaps.

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