+ "I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone": Who could be more elliptical a filmmaker than Apichatpong Weerasethakul? Possibly his New Crowned Hope-commissioned colleague Tsai Ming-liang, whose seventh feature opens in New York today. "Albeit closer to ballet than drama, this urban nocturne is one of Tsai’s most beautiful and naturalistic filmsâ€”at least in terms of its rich, humid, almost viscous ambience," writes the Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman. "The narrative, however, is pure fableâ€”complete with a mysterious ending that leaves the protagonist and his lovers bobbing like a cork on a sea of chaos." "On the subject of angles," adds A.O. Scott at the New York Times, "Mr. Tsai may be modern cinemaâ€™s reigning genius of camera placement, with an ability to turn simple, homely spaces into zones of psychological mystery." He goes on:
In spite of the austerity of his methods, Mr. Tsaiâ€™s meticulously composed fables of longing and disconnection are lurid and comical as well as poignant. His most memorable scenes are formalist jokes, deadpan sight gags that combine sex and slapstick humor.
Michael Koresky at indieWIRE believes that Tsai may 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." He points out that in choosing to set the film amongst immigrant workers Kuala Lumpur, a city in his native Malaysia, "Tsai has even found a more direct motivation for his preference to tell stories through images rather than dialogue: the great language divide of his main characters." Keith Uhlich at Slant detects for the first time "a sense that the director is treading water, ineffectually replaying themes better explored in earlier works." Still, he finds it "a…minor effort, though one still worth experiencing for [Norman] Atun‘s stellar performance as Rawang." Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club has similar thoughts: "[F]ew directors can approach Tsai’s formal mastery, but his latest work, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone, catches him on the downward slope. His signature long takes, once suffused with deep melancholy and unexpected humor, occasionally lose their dynamism here, especially in the first half, which finds his aesthetic minimalism stripped to the bone."
+ "Brand Upon the Brain!": Guy Maddin‘s silent film arrives with a live orchestra, foley artists, celebrity narrators and, possibly, a castrato in tow. "Yet," observes Fernando F. Croce at Slant, "the theatrical experience isn’t a William Castle-type gimmick any more than Maddin’s feverish melodrama is a blur of shards from Feuillade, Borzage, and Gance. The director’s profoundly felt biographical obsessions and love for film history go beyond parody and homage and into poetically inexplicable private reveries." "Mr. Maddinâ€™s adoration for early cinema â€” in particular, its delicate charms and now-exotic flourishes â€” hasnâ€™t made him a slave to that love, which is why ‘Brand Upon the Brain!’ is as much deconstruction as a tribute," continues Manohla Dargis at the New York Times.
In interviews he has explained that the story was partly inspired by events in his life, but the intensely personal nature of this tour de force would be evident even without such insider dope. In â€œBrand Upon the Brain!,â€ the Mother sometimes watches over the children using a searchlight to pick them out in the shadows. As the light sweeps over the island, it becomes at once an old-fashioned movie camera and a projector, seizing hold of these beautiful bodies in the rapture of their immortal youth.
At the Village Voice, Aaron Hillis cautions against passing up the live events for the film’s eventual wider theatrical release, which will run to a prerecorded soundtrack.
Not to discredit its wild artistry by saying the gimmick’s the prize,
but . . . the gimmick’s the prize. Without all the hoopla, there simply
isn’t enough variation to this stylized fever-dream to justify its
fatiguing running time, nor to call it anything less than predictably
Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club agrees that "coming after the inspired trifecta of Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary, Cowards Bend The Knee, and The Saddest Music In The World, Brand feels a little like boilerplate Maddin rather than a fresh burst of inspiration."
A less tolerant Armond White at the New York Press grumbles that the film’s "primary virtue is that it almostâ€”but not quiteâ€”sustains interest to the end… These gestures toward the avant-garde supposedly make Brand Upon the Brain! an art event, but Maddinâ€™s extremely mannered films are actually rear-guard. He exhibits a Canadian mediocrity, combining derivativeness with gentility."
We do like that â€” "Canadian mediocrity." Perhaps we shall start a band.
+ "Day Night Day Night": Julia Loktev‘s purposefully narratively curtailed suicide bomber film also opens in New York today. "Terror is existential in this highly intelligent, somewhat sadistic, totally fascinating movie," writes J. Hoberman at the Voice. "However low-budget and minimalist, this digitally shot, quasi-guerrilla production is a new-style disaster flickâ€”as experiential in its way as the ritual ordeal provided by United 93." At New York, David Edelstein puts it this way: "The film is, in fact, a cunning exercise in subjectivity and withheld informationâ€”and once you accept those parameters, itâ€™s riveting." He concludes "Iâ€™m frankly flummoxed about what Day Night Day Night adds up to, but its ‘You Are There’ allure is potent." Michael Koresky at indieWIRE has his own questions:
"Day Night Day Night" has the texture and stripped-to-the-core accuracy of allegory – which doesn’t exactly meld with its literal hot-button hook. No doubt that Loktev’s intellectual approach to the material was honorably trying to skirt sensationalism, preferring a more experimental tone, but does "Day Night Day Night" really bring us any closer to an understanding of our world, or does it simply approximate it?
Noel Murray at the Onion AV Club is frustrated by the "preponderance of coy ‘humanizing’ touches": "[J]ust as the ‘last day on Earth’ context gives scenes of nothingness more theoretical weight, so it also works against Loktev’s attempt to make a suicide-bombing thriller devoid of politics."
Ed Gonzalez at Slant finds that lead (and first-time) actress "Luisa Williams‘s fear is credible but her talents are not so grand to elevate what is a lazy abstraction of a character. In the end, Day Night Day Night is nothing more, nothing less than another exercise in sadistic immediacy." And at the New York Times, Stephen Holden writes that "Unless they go out of their way to make you despise the major characters, you tend to root for their success, no matter how mad and sociopathic their behavior. That may be the moral lesson of ‘Day Night Day Night.’ It draws you in enough to make you feel strangely culpable."