Saturday 19 March 2016

The Wandering Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang, France | Taiwan, 2005)

It was only a matter of time – of course – before a film such as The Wandering Cloud. The pornographic musical. Or, musical-porno. Take your pick. Yet such descriptions – which no doubt director Tsai Ming-liang would appreciate, as provocation – belie the subversive nature of the movie, and the power of Tsai’s images of sex and music. The setting is Kaohsiung, an affluent port city in southern Taiwan. The long hot summer rolls on, people move slowly through the wide, beautiful parks and along the boulevards shadowed beneath sky-scrappers. Kaohsiung is in the midst of a drought – the reservoirs are depleted, the rivers running dry and household water services intermittent. Here we find Hsiao-Kang and Shiang-chyi, a man and a woman aimlessly drifting through life. Hsiao-Kang sleeps wherever he finds himself when needing a nap: children’s playgrounds, stairwell suicide nets, roofs of tall buildings. Shiang-chyi wanders the streets collecting empty water bottles to stockpile tap water, amusing herself with diverting conundrums, or lazing in her apartment watching television. Inevitably, they meet – vaguely recognising one another (Hsiao-Kang sold Shiang-chyi a timepiece in a previous film by Tsai, who tends to reuse characters without any real deference to continuity). They begin an affair – although their interactions, even when close, are disconnected. When they eat, one will sit on a chair at the table, the other underneath. When they share a room, both will be occupied in separate tasks. This distance between the lovers is further evoked by a radical lack of dialogue. The Wandering Cloud – in these sections – is essentially silent, only a word or phrase occasionally spoken. Shiang-chyi has misplaced the key to a locked suitcase. She finds it set into the tarmac of the road beneath her high-rise. Yet when Hsiao-Kang retrieves the key, still the case cannot be opened. Is it the right key? Or is the lock no longer functioning? Tsai is a master of the cinematic metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche: images echo one another, scenes evoke associations, inconsequential actions point to the real, implied situation, which remains an ellipsis.

Shiang-chyi is addicted to watermelons... Hsiao-Kang is working as a porno actor... The musical-episodes do not emerge through a natural flow from an event in the day-to-day film-world, but appear as a break, a rupture. They cleft the screen, for a moment. Nevertheless – they extend from and through the everyday-moments and pornographic-sequences, combining the figure-elements of the characters: watermelons and sex. In this way, these musical-episodes echo moments and sequences from the rest of the film, evoke associations and refer to the real, implied situation, which remains an ellipsis. They are the expressions of joy and disappointment neither Hsiao-Kang nor Shiang-chyi are able to actualise. The Wandering Cloud creates images of thought – what Deleuze calls plastic figures: where ‘the action does not immediately disclose the situation which it envelops, but is itself developed in grandiose situations which encompass the implied situation’ (C1:182)…

To read the full exploration of The Wandering Cloud through the Deleuze's sign of the 'plastic figure,' see Deleuze's Cinema Books: Three Introductions to the Taxonomy of Images...

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