Led by a magic flute that not all can hear, avant-pop marches on: Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone is an enigmatic, largely wordless ritual performed over the often comatose body of the filmmaker's alter ego, Lee Kang-sheng. Lee plays two manifestations of the same person, identified in the credits as Paralyzed Guy and Homeless Guy. The Paralyzed Guy is introduced lying in a hospital bed as the Homeless Guy wanders through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, getting himself beat up when he inexplicably tries to hustle a gang of hustlers and then getting himself rescued from the pavement by a Bangladeshi guest worker. Tsai's eighth feature is his first to have been shot in his native Malaysia, and stylized as it is, it draws substantial human interest from Kuala Lumpur's urban locations—most spectacularly, a vast, flooded construction site. As this is a Tsai picture, sex inches ever closer, as does urban disaster, in the form of a mysterious haze somehow connected (or suspected of being connected) to the city's multiethnic foreign workers. Albeit closer to ballet than drama, this urban nocturne is one of Tsai's most naturalistic films—at least in terms of its rich, humid, almost viscous ambience. The narrative, however, is pure fable.
Tsai offers stillness, not solace, for his characters.
Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., July 27–Thurs., Aug. 2. Not rated. 115 minutes.