I Don't Want to Sleep Alone

Director:  Tsai Ming-liang
Year: 2006
Rating: 7.5
Country: Taiwan

This latest film from director Tsai Ming-Liang is a return to his very minimalist style after the rather outrageous, offensive and I thought quite wonderful “The Wayward Cloud”. In a film almost deplete of dialogue except as background noise, he painstakingly etches a melancholy scene of urban loneliness, longing and our need for human contact. Full of long static takes in which I sometimes felt I could take a coffee break and not miss much, the story inches along like an earthworm but still manages to build in its wake an overriding sense of empathy and poignant fragility. The ending is perhaps absurd and rather cinematic but touching and hopeful.

The urban setting is not his usual Taipei, but Tsai instead shifts it to the impoverished backstreets of Kuala Lumpur. This may seem like an odd choice for the director, but Tsai is actually from Malaysia and on a trip back last year he felt inspired to make a film there. Using a series of short wordless shifting scenes, Tsai gradually depicts a group of disparate characters in a desolate and loveless landscape. A homeless Chinese foreigner (played by his usual actor of choice, Lee Kang-Sheng) is set upon and beaten by a group of conmen and left damaged in the streets. He is spotted by a group of poor Bangladesh workers who have found a used mattress in the garbage and they take both discarded items back to their barely functional apartments. Rawang (Norman Atun) nurses Hsiao back to health – washing his body, standing him upright to urinate – and a suspected sexual wanting begins to possibly surface.

In another parallel thread, a waitress (Chen Shiang-Chyi) has to care for the paralyzed son (also played by Lee) of the owner of the place where she works and she too in similar fashion to Rawang has to wash him down and in one instance is shown by the mother how to jerk him off. The three of them slowly close this circle and their distance apart in their desperate desire to simply feel something other than isolation. Though I admit to at times feeling frustrated by the glacial pacing of the film, it pays off finally and the film received a very nice hand of applause at the end. Though the settings of the film are little more than an abandoned building, a cesspool, dark alleys and patchwork apartments, Tsai and the cinematographer do wonders as they lavish this world with stunning and striking visuals – at times there are some truly beautiful shots such as the older mother looking at herself in an aging mirror, a butterfly landing on a bare back or a dream like scene of people encased in gasmasks (because of the smoke from fires in Indonesia) eerily standing outside a store watching an Indian music video on TV. There are moments of sly humor as well – two of the characters trying to make love with those gasmasks on and frantically trying to kiss and breathe at the same time. Funny on one level, but it is also an urgent cry for love. As is this film.

Written up Oct 2006