This weekâ€™s Last Words feature comes from Tsai Ming Liangâ€™s Vive Lâ€™Amour.
Lately Iâ€™ve had trouble putting things into words.
In Tsaiâ€™s film, characters mostly only talk to sell (or try to), to argue, to manipulate (cheat), to flirt. For everything else there are no words. So many reviews of Vive Lâ€™Amour say it’s a film about urban alienation—that old nugget, you can pull it out for anything—but to me it feels like a film about being alienated from any equivalence between life and speech. Life and words. About certain states of feeling or living for which speech becomes inhospitable. The limit of speaking. And the absence of a true interlocutor: no one to really speak to. Sentences trail off, someone asks a question, you donâ€™t know how to respond, so you donâ€™t. Or you think youâ€™re talking to a client, so you have your fake seller voice on, then you realize itâ€™s that stalker-y guy you slept with, shit.
What cannot be housed in speech. How thin but true the separation is between myself as I am speaking and myself having stopped speaking, or having never spoken, or having never been able to speak. That for which I donâ€™t yet have a voice. And when you canâ€™t speak, when the life you are living or longing to live has yet no words to accompany it: how wounding it can be to be surrounded by words as others can use them, successfully. Your boss, your co-workers, a group of friends at a nearby table. Everyone living speakable lives. But yours doesn’t feel speakable.
A lot of those same reviews say things about â€œempty lives; impersonal modern world; meaningless sex.â€ Etc. But these lives arenâ€™t empty. What is an empty life? Three people squatting, mostly separately, in a unoccupied apartment. A girl working as a real estate agent, sucking up to strangers on the telephone, trying to make a sale, a lease. Trying to fuck, trying not to fuck. Trying to start her car. A man selling columbariums, kissing a watermelon, trying to kill himself, trying not to kill himself, gazing at himself in a little black dress and feather boa. A man calling a girl with the little change he has, looking at porn, trying to sell dresses on the street and not get nabbed by the police. Whatâ€™s astonishing here is the nearness. How near everything and everyone is to each other. (This sentence is not going to end: and yet so far away. That is not what this is.) Nearness is closeness without intimacy. Whether any of this has meaning (as if meaning imparted weight, a thing to hold on to) is not the point. Adjacency. People living by lying down next to other people.
It feels like weâ€™re seeing people at their outermost limit; people living just at the limit of what they can bear, before they go crazy. Though sometimes they go beyond what they can bear. Of course.
Why should this life be conceived of as empty because it does not pretend its struggles will end in—-what, something like triumph, mutual love, revelation. Meaning. Any of the things into which a work of art can recede, if it wants to recede. (And things I am not necessarily opposed to.) But this film does not want to recede.
Also, I like a good crying scene.
Tsai Ming-liang, Vive Lâ€™Amour: