"The Wayward Cloud" Histoire d'Eau By Andrei Plakhov

in 55th Berlinale

by Andrei Plakhov

Tsai Ming-liang has already made several masterpieces about the decline of human communication, family, male-female and love relations in urban society. The Wayward Cloud is so far the most radical film of the Taiwanese director, a real piece of Chinese extremism. This is an incredible love story which develops in the background of a severe global water shortage. The replacement of water is now watermelon juice; watermelon then replaces a vagina in the first sexual scene, and later on helps to imitate pregnancy and birth, so it becomes the symbolic substitute for the most basic human functions.

Characters in the film are the same as in Tsai’s What time is it there? A young woman, Shiang-Chyi, returns to Taipei from Paris with the same suitcase which will never be opened. She soon meets Hsiao-Kang but discovers that he is no longer a watch salesman but an actor in porn films. Nothing is the same in the city: TV is teaching various water-saving methods, and Shiang-Chyi is mostly preoccupied with stealing water from public toilets, filling countless numbers of plastic bottles and saving this treasure in the refrigerator.

There are the usual leitmotivs of Tsai’s world: for instance claustrophobia and running water. Everything including the production of porn videos happens in the same building, and in spite of the water crisis, it is drifting along the screen on the naked bodies of actors. At the same time this film has new elements — humor and a reflection of pornography as a real obsession of modern culture. The last sex scene involves a dead woman’s body and culminates with oral ejaculation through the bars of a window. It looks like a travesty of classical gay porn imagery — in spite of the fact that the action happens not in a prison but near a poster advertising China Airlines.

Cinephilia is another subject of Tsai Ming-liang. In this case, the obvious pornographic, voyeuristic nature of cinema.

And last but not least: The Wayward Cloud is a musical which in its ironic way recalls Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and offers a few unforgettable song-and-dance sequences — one of them happens in a toilet with Lee Kang-Sheng wearing a penis head. The favorite protagonist of Tsai fulfils the New Wave concept of the François-Truffaut-Jean-Pierre-Léaud series following all the stages of male development, both physical and psychological. This is the most unexpected and impossible screen love story ever made.