Friday, December 09, 2005

Topical Magesty

The summer of 2005 was a very good year for films. Of those films that graced the screen (in L.A. at least) the most memorable were not, however were made this year. There were two films that experienced devistatingly short runs and minimal attendence completely blew my mind. I saw Wild Side last year at Los Angeles' OutFest. Because of a mix up, I walked into the theater late, missing the first 20 minutes of the film, yet, even without preposition, Wild Side struck me as one of the most daring and well crafted films of the 2004. It played for one week without any sort of advertizements (and believe me, a French film about an Arab, a trannie and an illegal Russian imigrant does not exactly get people coming in droves). It is not my intent to discuss Wild Side here, I'll save that for another tome (and what a tome it will be). The other film played at a theater nowhere near my apartment one summer week and then it was gone. I didn't get a chance to see it. Until last night. I could not recommend a film more highly.

Tropical Malady was the kind of cinematic experience that reestablishes my faith in cinema as an art form. It was the first Thai film to be entered into competition at Cannes where it won the Jury prize. Cahier Du Cinema also awarded it "Best Film of 2004," and I believe I must agree with them. IT is no surprise that the film was so dearly loved by the French. The film indeed resembles the best moments of Claire Denis' (too highly?) esteemed work, Beau Travail. The film is sectioned in halves. The first half places two Thai homosexual lovers Keng and Tong in their (natural) surroundings and, much with Denis' work, I feel much of the weight here is lost to a western audience. Moments of radiant beauty pierce the abismal atmosphere created here and the pacing is rather greulling (also like Denis). Still, moments of pure magic occur here. Keng courts Tong with a Clash tape during a topical monsoon and Tong is overjoyed. Later, Keng relates,

"When I gave you the Clash cassette I forgot to give you my heart. You can have it today... Here it is. Do you feel it?"

"I'm receiving it. I can feel it," Tong replies.

In moments like these, not only does one ffel disconnected from the culture, but one is brought back to the time when these exchanges where possible though out culture. That in being restricted, the lovers may infact be more free. There is one moment of sexual physicality between the two. When Tong relieves himself at the side of the jungle after a joyride with Keng on his moped, Keng takes Tong's hand and kisses it. "I haven't washed my hands yet," Tong states. Keng continues. Tong takes this farther, licking Kengs hand like a cat. The moment is extremely sexually charged, being their first sexual interaction, after which Tong merely walks away, into the blackness of the jungle. The scene is reminiscent of the moment in David Lynch's Lost Highway where Fred walks down the dark corridor to emerge into an alternate world(?). After this scene, Keng rides away and we are treated to night shots of a more sinister view of the city.

This occurs almost precisely at the one hour mark. Following, we view a crude drawing of a tiger and a new set of credits appear on the screen. A folktale is told about a shamen who could change into any form. At one point in time, he became tiger. A trapper catured him, and now the ghost of this tiger haunts the forest. Here, the film which we have become accustomed to through the first half of the film slips away, and what we are treated to is a meditative mixture of ohhh... Trouble Every Day meets Predator (to be daft). The narrative then follows Keng as he attempts to track and kill this "beast" who may or may not be Tong. Without giving too much away, the film becomes a metaphysical exploration of desire. And that's a very base way of describing it.

What makes this movie so spellbinding is the visual treatment of this second half. Being a jaded viewer, I can hardly recall the last time my breath was taken away by a film. As the credits rolled last night, I sat in rapt silence, unable to believe the magic I just witnessed. It is the kind of imagery that has to be seen to believe. Any descriptions would just decorate it. Really, all I can say is SEE THIS MOVIE! It is by far the best film of 2004 and I have a feeling, a good long time.

As a side note, though, the DVD transfer that Strand did of this title is completely embarassing. It is obviously made from a PAL copy and the frame is cropped to full screen. The subtitles are rarely linked to the actual spoken dialogue. If you have a region free DVD player, might I recomend the R3 copy of the film, which is in its original widescreen format. I have not seen the copy, but I can almost assure you, it is better than the Strand disc.


Blogger J said...

Why do you think Strand would release a film like this in the first place? It's a fluke to begin with that they were the ones who released "The Raspberry Reich," but that could be easily chalked up to the fact that even those who didn't get it could at least jerk off. "Tropical Malady" is one of the most ambitiously beautiful and haunting films I've ever seen and would think this film to be better suited to a release by Wellspring, or someone of that sort, who would have handled both the distribution and transfer of the film a helluva lot better. And, c'mon, look at the cover-art for the film.

3:49 PM  

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