Film

Tsai Ming-liang’s ‘Afternoon’ Offers Just What Its Title Promises: An Afternoon With Tsai

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Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang, already one of the heaviest tortoises on the global Slow Cinema race team, stops moving altogether with this self-consciously artless document.

Shot in one day, virtually free of editing, and intended as an autobiographical summation, the film consists of nothing more than a static mid-range shot of Tsai and his perennial leading actor/”muse” Lee Kang-sheng sitting opposite each other in folding chairs and flip-flops. The (in)action takes place in the corner of a dilapidated mountain house, where two vast empty window frames reveal rolling jungle treetops. With no great urgency or agenda, they talk — a few cuts to black suggest where it got too dull even for Tsai — and the convo lollygags around to their joint careers, sexuality, mutual acquaintances, and so on.

Time does roll on, as afternoons always do, a certain number of awkward pauses and cigarettes later, with the tropical light outside adjusting slightly. Tsai does most of the talking, spurred by his sense of aging and impending illness, and there are no revelations to be had — except, perhaps, if you assumed that since the two men live together they must be lovers. They’re not, and Tsai’s clear without being painful about his long-unrequited love for his hetero star, who shrugs off the subject and prefers to wait for Tsai to talk himself out. They are an intensely yin-and-yang couple — the weird, self-&exploratory, narcissistic filmmaker and his blank-slate object of desire. (Lee has no strong opinions, even about food.) But in the end the vibe is gentle and sweet.

This is not a movie, really, but a back-rub and a cup of tea for Tsai purists, for whom the filmmaker’s company, behind or in front of the camera, is all that’s required.

Afternoon

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang

Opens April 1, Metrograph

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