In its more recessive and private way, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone is as much a departure for Tsai as his previous film, The Wayward Cloud, which alienated many of his long-time supporters with its swerve into pornography. All his films have posited love as a conquest of ambivalence about the body, but I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone is the most extreme in exploring physicality as both impasse (the comatose Lee Kang-sheng) and renewal (the injured and recovering Lee Kang-sheng). It’s also the darkest of Tsai’s films — haunted by the recurrent image of the black water that fills the lower levels of the car park — and the most violent.
At the opening of Paz Encina’s atmospheric HAMACA PARAGUAYA|PARAGUAYAN HAMMOCK (September 6, 13, and 15), the camera is set up at some distance before a clearing in a forest. An elderly couple emerge through the trees in the background of the shot. They attach a hammock between two trees and sit side by side on it. They talk about the weather and about a barking dog. It becomes apparent that what most concerns them is the unknown fate of their son, who has been drafted as a soldier in their country’s border war. Through their talk, which continues on and off throughout the 78-minute film, Hamaca paraguaya becomes a moving and chilling meditation on distance, geography, and the peremptory designs of states, and Encina uses the dislocation between image and sound (and cutaways to ominous clouds) to create a shifting perceptual experience. Although its materials are limited, Hamaca paraguaya is a rich and dense film, not a sparse one.
The hero of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s DARATT (September 9) is 16-year-old Atim (“orphan”), whose father was killed in the violence of Chad’s civil war. After the government declares an amnesty for the perpetrators of such crimes, Atim’s grandfather gives him a pistol and sends him off for revenge. The guilty party is a baker who on being confronted by Atim disarms him (figuratively) by taking him on as an apprentice. This kindness, which sends the plot of the film on an unexpected course, is at the heart of the ambiguity of Daratt. Although Haroun builds considerable tension with his handling of the revenge theme, Daratt is less a melodrama or a film of anguish than a film about freedom: Atim’s freedom of action, Haroun’s freedom as a filmmaker.
The other films are less successful. Garin Nugroho’s OPERA JAWA (August 31, September 2 and 9), from Indonesia, sets a free retelling of a tale of lust and jealousy from the Ramayana to gamelan music. Chorus members contribute nice moments on the fringes of the piece, but the interactions among the principals are like rehearsals for a work destined to be always “in progress.” Vapid prettiness abounds, and after 20 minutes it becomes clear that anything can and will happen, except the emergence of a valid cinematic form. In HALF MOON, from Iran (September 1, 2, and 6), a legendary Kurdish musician and his sons undertake a hazardous bus journey across the Iran-Iraq border to reach the site of a planned concert in a Kurdish village. Failing to sustain the ambitious combination of bleakness, wry comedy, and surrealism he’s after, director Bahman Ghobadi drives his road movie into a series of magical-realist potholes. If Opera Jawa and Half Moon exemplify what might have been feared from the Sellars/“New Crowned Hope” commission (as does the short, Teboho Mahlatsi’s South African Sergio Leone pastiche “Meokgo and the Stickfighter,” which will be shown before Daratt), the other four features offer more than could have been hoped for.