Monday, January 02, 2006

Tropical Malady (2005)

It's like a double feature compressed into one film! The first part of this sensual triumph is devoted to a cute, likeable gay romance between a soldier on leave and a village boy. It's endearing enough for the Quad crowd, but the narrative digressions and occasional touches of mystical weirdness (the cave!) point the way to where it eventually goes. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's previous films have showed undue enjoyment in blasting narrative progression to hell, so it's probably no real surprise that this film eventually follows suit. But the direction in which it leaps is wholly unexpected -- it's like the reality-smashing surrealistic U-turns of Videodrome or Mulholland Drive except far less hostile and far more poetic. This second part is haunting and filled with memorable images (no one who sees the glowing tree is ever likely to forget it), and at first glance, the two halves seem to come from different worlds. But there's a tension inherent in grafting the two otherwise-vaguely-connected halves into one film, and it's not long before we see them feeding meaning into each other. The film even plays off this in its climax, wherein a declaration of love framed as an all-or-nothing argument turns into something more moderated. The film puts the protagonist in a situation where either he or the object of his obsession (or affection) must be annihilated, and yet both are still there at film's end because a spiritual (read: emotional) compromise was reached. Says a lot about the nature of love, but also says a lot about the nature of this film: If you can meet it halfway (and realize that it's also meeting itself halfway), you'll have a hell of a time. And if not... well, it's still fucking gorgeous.

Grade: A-


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