“Dream of a dove flying.”
Always on the cusp of something but stranded in the moment, many beginnings but no endings.
A Man Escaped
There’s something very vital about the subtitle of A Man Escaped or: The Wind Bloweth Where It Listeth, which I can’t recall reading before I actually saw the film. Lifted from a scene almost exactly at the midpoint of the film, it is one of the points where the film becomes its most clear and removed from the (terrific) abstraction that otherwise characterizes it. Through the words of Jesus through John, as spoken by our hero Fontaine, the escape that he succeeds at is directly equated with spiritual salvation, even as his predecessor is being shot at that very moment. This divergence between the realm of the spiritual and the realm of the actual is key, layering ideas of transcendence that never distract from the intense, slow procedure of escape but rather enhance and contextualize them. Without more than a hint of background given to Fontaine, the viewer must draw the reason, the emotion from the struggle to survive itself, and the cell becomes its own crucible. Whether it is faith, chance, sheer will, or a combination of all that enables Fontaine to make his escape, there is no way to describe that feeling of cathartic release other than overwhelming grace.
Yes, those musical sequences. Even if they weren’t so delightfully varied, so transcendently effervescent and yet grounded in the dilapidated Taipei that traps the protagonists, their programming alone is nothing short of masterful. I hadn’t noticed the placement of them at ~15 minute intervals, but what matters is their complete harmony with the emotional tenor of the film’s development, coming just after what would be considered an emotional crescendo in a regular movie and acting as the logical extension of that.
But, of course, this is still the realm of Tsai Ming-liang. The overtly apocalyptic tone and scenario feels like his trademark vision pushed to a kind of breaking point, and it’s remarkable to see his locked-down perspectives open up to no small degree, boasting pans, extended tracking shots, and even what appears to be a handheld shot, hurtling through a mall as it follows a squad of exterminators. But these don’t disrupt the stasis so much as heighten it, fleshing out the spaces so as to render them all the more claustrophobic yet cavernous. Decay and madness come hand in hand, the malaise is literalized, and any method of escape, no matter how fleeting, is what matters.