Sonntag, 6. Oktober 2013

Filmfest Hamburg: 郊遊 (Stray Dogs)

Movie-watching is always a subjective experience, but in the case of "郊遊 (Stray Dogs)", Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming Liang really took it to another level. Stripping his work of all conventional narrative elements and leaving it entirely to the audience to decide what they're seeing, this is art house cinema radicalized to a point where even to call it a movie sometimes seems like an overstatement, since the whole thing just doesn't move all that much.

Fanatically still, static, stringent, the film makes Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and "To the Wonder" look like the Transformers and will undoubtedly alienate everyone but hardcore cineasts (the opening shot of two children sleeping and a woman wordlessly combing her hair for about 5 minutes could probably serve as a good test for whether you should stay for the following 130). I, for one, was dazzled by the result. Having given up early on all attempts to figure out a plot, a structure, anything, I approached the film by simply succumbing to its unique language of pictures and performances. And it's mesmerizing. Through bold, precarious camera angles and stark color choices, each frame of the film is exquisitely composed, rendering even shots of immobile subjects (there are numerous scenes of people sleeping) unreasonably interesting, crying out for interpretation.

The last part of the movie, starting with the 11-min cabbage-eating scene (which I think was not one of its strongest), kind of leaves the realm of magical realism and enters cinematic crazyland. But if anything, it's also the most riveting part. Editing loses much of its meaning and time becomes irrelevant as in the penultimate scene, which is stretched to the limit of endurability and then some, all that's left is the imagery and the context-free, purely instinctive performances. It's insanely self-indulgent but also incredibly liberating to watch and powerful in its uncompromising truthfulness.

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