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Vive L’Amour (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on May 27, 2015

This is likely to be the last movie I will watch as a single man.  Quite appropriate, considering how much the film is about singleness.  Three characters occupy the same apartment, but spend their time hiding from each other, failing to connect, or connecting in ways that are empty, one-sided, unfulfilling.  Hsiao-kang (Kang-sheng Lee) can’t act on his desire for Ah-jung (Chao-jung Chan).  Ah-jung can’t get May Lin (Kuei-Mei Yang) to acknowledge him, or even remember him.  May Lin throws herself into one-night stands with Ah-jung, but can’t bear to — or doesn’t know how, or doesn’t show if she wants to — take it to a deeper level.

Ah-jung, the most confident of the three, is the least affected by the disconnection.  But early on we see Hsiao-kang make a half-hearted suicide attempt, and there’s a moment where May Lin appears to be contemplating it.  These two characters are experiencing deep loneliness and existential pain, though their faces are often blank, expressionless.  Are we all doomed to be as solitary and self-contained as cremation urns?  Even in the same chamber, they are separate.

At this point in his career, Tsai hasn’t fully embraced the power of the long take.  The dialogue is minimal (though compared to Goodbye Dragon Inn it might as well be a Paddy Chayefsky script) but we don’t get so many long, lingering shots of characters just being.  There’s still quite a bit of doing, action expressing emotional state in more overt ways than Tsai would soon develop.  But he does seem to understand that the real power of the final scene is not May Lin’s emotional outburst.  It’s not the tears that make it so heartbreaking.  It’s the pause in the middle, where she lights a cigarette, takes a deep breath, and composes herself.  The crying is a catharsis, and a beautiful one, but it’s this so very human moment that indicates Tsai is starting to master his style.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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