Wednesday 29 July 2020

Stray Dogs [2013]

The films of Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang – an undoubted master of slow cinema – has always steadfastly focused on the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the marginalized, and therefore on people literally living in the edges of a über-modern, late capitalist Taipei. And, like the thematic connectors, the stylistic, aesthetic and tonal palettes of his films too have often been distinctively identifiable. All these elements where there in ample measure in the bleak, edgy, alienating, ultra minimalist and deadpan Stray Dogs – Tsai’s 10th, and allegedly final, film. The movie is centered on a single father (a brilliant Lee Kang-sheng continuing with one of the most iconic director-actor collaborations), who stays in an abandoned building with his two kids – a little girl (Lee Yi-chieh) and her elder brother (Lee Yi-cheng) – and he earns a harsh livelihood as a human sign-board on the city’s sidewalks; what could be a more pungent irony than that he resides in a deserted, dilapidated dump while advertising for real estates that he couldn’t possibly afford even in a thousand years. They survive on free giveaway meals and clean themselves in public toilets, and yet, despite their extreme impoverishment and existential disillusionment, they are a reasonably contented close-knit little family. In an interesting artistic choice, and a tad intriguing one, there’s a mysterious woman too in the mix who could either be the kids’ current or estranged mother, and who’s played by three separate actresses who’ve all been regulars in Tsai’s films (Yang Kuei-mei, Lu Yi-ching, Chen Shiang-chyi). The endless stasis in which the characters’ exist were amplified by the extreme unhurried pacing, long moments of obtuse silence and stunning long takes shot largely using a static camera.

Director: Tsai Ming-liang
Genre: Drama/Urban Drama/Existential Drama
Language: Taiwanese
Country: Taiwan

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