We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

Enough of my kvetching about Knocked Up, time for a little excursion across the water …

O farther sail! Both Tsai Ming-liang‘s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone and Emanuele Crialese‘s Golden Door, two recent films dealing with the immigrant/guest worker experience, end in flourishes of hydration, with overhead shots that obliterate perspective and set the characters randomly adrift–in a water-filled Piranesi-like grotto in the first, a sea of Grade A homogenized in the second. As explanatory metaphors, they’re too literal by a half–Crialese’s amniotic milk bath seems almost comical–but as images of open-ended possibility, of ambiguous/anomic encounters with infinity and the void, they’re terrifically resonant and moving. A few lines from Whitman suggest the overall searching tone:

  Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
  With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts,
  With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and Whither O mocking life?

  Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
  Who Justify these restless explorations?
  Who speak the secret of impassive earth?
  Who bind it to us? what is this separate Nature so unnatural?
  What is this earth to our affections? …

  For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
  And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

  O my brave soul!
  O farther farther sail!
  O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
  O farther, farther, farther sail!

Poetics of exile
. What surprises me most about Tsai is his apparent affinity for displacement. Relocated to Kuala Lumpur from his usual Taiwan haunts (though in fact he’s native Malaysian), he’s suddenly seeing the world with rejuvenated eyes–maybe because it’s another world entirely. Sunlight invading mean apartment spaces (and when did we ever get that in dank, dark Taipei?), bright linoleum-block colors on cheap wood floors (a gift of the Indian subcontinent?), an almost palpable humidity and heat, the myriad entanglements of assorted South Asian lifestyles, not to mention the pervasive mosquito netting that almost becomes a character in its own right (or at least a filter to the action)–all of this seductive in ways that seem exotic and fresh, even if the overall themes (of alienation and tangled sex, the perennial obsession with water) remain the same as ever. If Otar Iosseliani‘s unofficial master of the exile’s point of view–all his post-Soviet films are precision riffs on difference, how one cultural locus can never be like another–it seems now that Tsai has that understanding too.