Afternoon Screen 17 articles

Afternoon

2015

Afternoon Poster
  • A Tsai is just a sigh in “Afternoon,” a dallying, mildly disarming filmed tete-a-tete between Tsai Ming-liang and his beloved leading man Lee Kang-sheng that takes equal, undiscriminating interest in both conversational ebb and flow. Covering a lot, and concluding very little in the cheekily extended space of 137 minutes, this is a curio at once modest and wildly indulgent, with precisely nothing to offer auds not already entrenched in the Tsai cult.

  • Can't imagine anyone who isn't a heavy-duty Tsai fan getting much out of this, and it's fairly rough going even for the faithful. Most of the first hour or so doesn't even constitute a conversation—Lee just sits there silently (being filmed clearly makes him acutely self-conscious, which works nicely in the narrative films but is maddening here) while Tsai delivers a rambling monologue that's half "Remember that time when?" and half "Thank you for being you."

  • [Since Tsai announced his retirement,] it is clear that his work has fundamentally changed. Afternoon is a feature-length experimental film that could be taken as the most complex DVD extra ever made. But for devotees of Tsai and his onscreen alter ego, actor Lee Kang-sheng, the film is hypnotic, even as the perversity of its stasis prompts a viewer to wonder whether it has a trajectory or is simply going where it will.

  • Especially because [Tsai] likes to return to similar characters, themes, motifs and locales in his films, his audience experiences a growing familiarity with the Tsai universe with each new work. But this has also resulted (at least for me) in a growing curiosity about Tsai’s own, personal universe – something he doesn’t talk too much about in interviews. Because of this, Afternoon holds immediate interest for Tsai fans – and for few others.

  • [Tsai and Lee] 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.

  • Candid and audaciously minimalist, Afternoon risks self-indulgence, but comes out with insight. Part of the reason is that the friendship between Tsai and Lee is legitimately interesting and complicated: the queer artist and the largely silent collaborator who’d wait for him outside of bath houses and cruising spots when they would travel abroad for film festivals. It seems at once comfortable and precarious, sustained by the unspoken and unresolved.

  • “Recently I’ve been getting this strong feeling that I may be dying soon.” The Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, 58, makes this confession early on in his new picture, the sublimely simple, emotionally charged “Afternoon.”

  • The spillover between the director’s aesthetic obsession and co-dependent relationship with his actor-muse quietly edges Afternoon into the territory Tsai has always mined, where contemporary culture gives birth to strange, half-birthed new forms of relations and desire, beautiful in their incompleteness. The difference here comes in the mass of extra-textural references, in the form of their shared body of work, which comes to inflect most of their utterances.

  • Like with other Tsai films, we become acutely aware of the space in the film—the lush greenery that peeps into the windows, a sunny contrast to the muted dilapidated interiors. The results are sublime, reminiscent of the intimacy of My Dinner with Andre and the thinking-through-ideas processes of This is Not a Film. Afternoon is not Tsai’s swan song, nor is it a footnote. Like with the rest of his oeuvre, we struggle to define his cinema in a meaningful way, but remain transfixed by its beauty.

  • It’s the nature of the words uttered, however, that offers the film’s fascinating consistencies with, and divergences from, the rest of Tsai’s films.

  • Though primarily an attempt to define a relationship (the film is centrally about the impossibility of this task), Afternoon functions also as a brilliant film about working as a director, working as an actor, and how those two worlds converge.

  • By its very nature Tsai’s sorrowful minimalism has never been more emotional. The director is a veritable blabbermouth, and whether spurned on either by the mysterious motivation for the project, his interlocuting actor’s dry silence, or nervousness in the presence of the quite noticable camera crew, Tsai Ming-liang nervously but avidly, movingly talks (and talks) of his profound, gut-wrenching, soul seeking need for his actor, his need for Lee Kang-sheng in his work and in his life.

  • Afternoon amounts to more than its modest construction might suggest. The camera’s single angle, positioned slightly to the left of its subjects, encompasses two large, open-air windows which allow bright rays of sunshine and thick foliage to spill into the room, bringing the outside and inside worlds into direct communication, a kind of secondary conversation transpiring in harmony with the touching repartee of our featured players.

  • Tsai serves as his own subject here, offering up a disarming intimacy through his own free-flowing, seemingly unrehearsed thoughts, and revealing to his audience numerous personal details about his life, work, sexuality, and emotional state. Yet he does so not out of exhibitionism or self-aggrandizement, but to wrestle with ideas... Like a lot of great art, it’s both deeply personal and entirely metaphorical.

  • A lovely double self-portrait of Tsai and his muse Lee Kang-sheng discussing their life together while the sun shines down on the green valley their home overlooks.

  • The film’s four shots (the camera operator breaks at regular intervals to reload, leaving a few seconds of black) run across two hours and twenty minutes, and that’s all there is to it. It’s the old complaint about so-called “art” films—that they’re nothing more than people sitting around talking—taken to the extreme, and it’s Tsai’s most baldly naked film. As he has throughout his career, he’s there’s complexity and density to his scarcity and simplicity.

  • It’s a charming film, not least because its subjects are charming, but it’s also moving and not a little painful. It’s one of the more demanding two-men-sitting-talking films, but as a statement about an artist and his muse, it’s extraordinarily revealing, wound-baring even... Afternoon—which must surely rank very high in the canon of “films about nothing”—is a very full film indeed, positively brimming over with life, love and the downright strangeness of amorous or artistic desire.

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