Full credits from IMDb
The camera moves twice, by my count, in I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Hei Yan Quan)—once because a bus stops in front of the lens, and a second time it slides laterally, a few inches, so gradually that it’s almost imperceptible. Tsai’s latest is a succession of static images, some only seconds long while others extend several minutes, like a series of page A1, above-the-fold photographs of Malay street life and hospital ritual in motion. It’s cinema with a purity of patience, centered on one walletless vagrant (Lee Kang-Sheng) who’s beaten and left to collapse on the sidewalk. He’s taken to a hospital where Die Zauberflöte usually pumps from the boombox. (Sleep Alone is one of the distinguished films, cf. Syndromes and a Century, financed as part of the New Crowned Hope Festival.)
Tsai teases out subliminal poesy from the film’s deceptive simplicity, using dialogue sparsely to fashion a portrait of contemporary urban loneliness—thus the film’s title, far more overt than the subtle film. He defines his characters through their surroundings—where they eat, sleep, wash their clothes—and, to a lesser extent, the simple things they do in those spaces. So, his camera doesn’t follow the actors; instead, from the prime vantage points Tsai has arranged in advance, it soaks up locations, none more striking than the hospital’s core: a flooded, gutted shell that, Scott Tobias wrote, “has the look of a haunted opera house.”
As I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, set in a crowded city of solitaire souls, progresses, a smoky haze of mysterious origin passes over the city; everyone begins to wear gasmasks, the streets turn a sickly dustbowl gold, and the formerly bleak atmosphere becomes almost post-apocalyptic. Thick and pervasive, the cloud makes kissing without choking nearly impossible. Ending on an image of the three central characters on a white mattress, sailing on an inky, blue-black sea, Tsai’s final analysis of the modern condition is ambiguous, as in the rest of the film: people are together, but alone; a hint of optimism struggles to be heard amid a clamor of pessimism.
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