september 2017, arsenal cinema

Anatomy of loneliness – The Films of Tsai Ming-liang

If one wanted to define cinema, one might say that it is a manifestation of desire, an attempt to capture inexplicably beautiful, fleeting moments. Motifs of the "perverse" also have a firm place, at the very least since the Surrealists broke all the rules with such relish. For 25 years, the Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang has explored the appeal of apocalyptic panoramas of society and developed his version of desolate eroticism. The sheer imagery with which he depicts alienation, isolation and world weariness (with Liao Pen-jung as cameraman in almost all of his films) also serves a very unique sense of humor. In Tsai's skeptical take on the torments of love and family tensions blaze a - sometimes seemingly curious and discreet - longing for the grotesque and the breaching of taboos. He keeps his narratives simple, sometimes very fragmentary, to allow them as advanced a form as possible. Arsenal is paying tribute to the multi-award-winning auteur with a retrospective compiled of 12 feature films made between 1992 and 2015.


Tsai Ming-liang was born in Malaysia in 1957 but it's in Taipei that he developed as an artist. He has since expressed his doubts about the future of cinema and even hinted at his exit from filmmaking. As he approaches 60, it seems as if his career since 1992 is coming full circle: Tsai drove the naturalism of his early works into visionary, fantastic, feverish dreams and steered his auteur career away from narration towards installation. His current creations seem more suited for museums and galleries than to the decaying old cinema that he once celebrated in GOODBYE, DRAGON INN. He has said that none of his cinema films could have been made without the phlegmatic, often mysterious actor Lee Kang-sheng, whom he discovered in an amusement hall. Lee's role name (Hsiao-kang) is always the same and he essentially plays himself - going beyond the boundaries of fiction. His minimal acting corresponds perfectly to the director's rudimentary storylines. Tsai Ming-Liang likes to manipulate time: The measured narrative tempo with which he operates and his laconic storylines demand concentration; these works unfold in long, static takes and invite viewers to think about themselves intensively. The director is interested in the effects of light (and its withdrawal) and the gaze (and refusing to offer it). The narrative levels are complicated by films within films, with multiple references to Hollywood musicals and the French Nouvelle Vague opening up more space for self-reflection. Characters wander through urban spaces, laconically, aimless, left to fate, but not averse to the farce which lies in depressive songs and porno slapstick. There are triangular relationships, different worlds colliding, lone meanderings through ruins and post-industrial transit zones; characters live spontaneously and in polyamorous fashion, they are queer and straight, uncertain, lost in burned out buildings waiting to be demolished. Voyeurism is a basic condition of Tsai Ming-liang's cinema of entertainment and – in spite of all cultural pessimism water damage is a guarantee for an eternal libidinous flow of fantasies.

september 2017, arsenal cinema

Harun Farocki: Year by Year / Side by Side (1)

Three years after Harun Farocki's sudden death in 2014, the multifaceted nature and consistency of his pioneering oeuvre, which spanned almost 50 years, are all the more apparent. Between 1966, when he started studying at the newly-founded Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb), and 2013, Farocki made several cinema works and television programs. He also wrote pertinent and often polemical texts of film criticism, as well as teaching at a series of universities, film and art schools. From the 1990s onwards, he gained acknowledgement in increasingly wider circles and was perceived above all as an installation artist and visual theorist. His works understand themselves explicitly as theory, critiques and politics of different types of image, but they also offer examples of precise analysis of work processes in an era when production and seeing are becoming increasingly mechanized. The breadth of Farocki's oeuvre ranges from agitprop, pamphlet-esque films, to self-reflexive, associative and open forms as well as to more reserved, patient observation studies. "Year by Year / Side by Side" is the most comprehensive retrospective of Harun Farocki's work to date. Alongside the exhibition "Harun Farocki: Mit anderen Mitteln – By Other Means" (curated by Antje Ehmann and Carlos Guerra) at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, the temporary "Farocki Now" academy organized by the Harun Farocki Institut at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the silent green Kulturquartier and the publication of his incomplete autobiography, the program will give audiences a chance to become acquainted, or reacquainted, with Farocki's oeuvre and all its nuances. This program will continue in October and November.