Even as Tsai Ming-liang nearly hypnotizes the viewer with his elegantly composed static images and methodical pacing, rarely does a filmmaker encouraged such active engagement with stillness. The Taiwanese director might be the visual narrative stylist par excellence working in cinema today; an entire story, a life, a world, breathes through his films, even as he rarely burdens them with language. Often, it will take a moment for your senses to adjust to a new Tsai composition – at once teeming with life and emptied out, this place will force your eyes to wander and scan the frame for signs of movement, color, or familiarity. Tsai gives us time to surmise, to interpret and distill his motives, to watch how sunlight changes as it beams through a window or to scan all corners to see from which end people will emerge. Such demand is not only respectful of its audience but also invigorating – Tsai’s films leave your eyes wide with wonder and expectation.
His latest film, the heartrending I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone shies away from dialogue at least as much as his glorious 2003 paean to the dying palaces of moviegoing, Goodbye Dragon Inn. Aside from some brief introductory scenes of a garrulous con man trying to swindle Chinese immigrant Hsiao-kang (Tsai’s joined-at-the-hip muse Lee Kang-sheng) out of money before leaving him a bloody, bedraggled mess on the streets of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone treads delicately and wordlessly across newly fraught terrain. With its portrait of immigrant workers living in impoverished conditions, the film uses a new setting for its director’s usual bag of minimalist tricks.
Click here to read more of Michael Koresky’s review of I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, which opens today at New York City’s IFC Center.