Directed by Tsai Ming-Liang
Screened at the 46th Sydney Film Festival
Commissioned by a French TV station as part of the 2000 vu par series
How do you represent the end of the millennium, the supposed apocalypse we're all waiting for with baited breath. It's easy when you have a great big wad of cash - just blow up anything, in the process slaying the daughter or alternate minor character that provides..what do you call that thing, motivation. Films like Armageddon and Deep Impact tap into some kind of millennial hysteria. Mother Earth is extremely pissed off, and this time we're playing for higher stakes. In these films 2000 is always a big wipe-out. As an alternative, try The Hole. Here, panic is a slow crawl, and terror is a cumulative force. Every day is another challenge. The Hole is the filler Kafka never added to the introduction of Metamorphosis. Sure, beauracracy and banking it takes its toll, but how does one actually turn into a bug? Strange virus? Is any effort involved?
In Taiwan there are 7 days to go before the turn of the century and millennium. A voice fills us over the black screen as plain white credits appear. A strange virus is sweeping the city. Garbage collectors are on strike. We never see any media footage, no hand-held television stylings. We receive instructions, and we slowly focus on two characters who live in an apartment block, a young man and a young woman. The man lives directly above the woman, and after some workmen come to fix a leak, he finds he has a widening hole in hs floor/her roof. This begins a petty battle between the two. And there are also musical sequences. Life doesn't get much smaller than this.
Every physical gesture is caught in minute detail by Tsai. The world moves in real time, and even then that time is quite a crawl. After work a boy electronically closes a roller-door, and we watch the painfully slow drag unwinding of the door, with the scraping noise it makes. When the boy prepares noodles, we wait with, a silent process that offers up a very humble meal. Everything about the film is deliberate and unwieldy. The lives of these characters has a depression regularity, and the filmmaker watches them with a methodical eye. When the flamboyant and campy dance scenes arrive, they punctuate the silence joyously and then instantly fade away, almost mocking the reality the dreamers struggle with.
The effects Tsai achieves here are minor and hard to describe. How odd for a film. What he excels at is the thorough observation of what we usually call everyday life. Observation is enough, and the truth, that most terrifying of words, will eventually reveal itself. You should do some observing of your own.
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note to Eugs...you saw this one right? perhaps you can beef up my observations and add your own. I think you'll agree it's a hard film to write about.
note from eugs: Check out my feature article Tsai Ming Liang and his films in the context of the New Taiwanese Cinema