Days (Rizi), the newest film from Tsai Ming-liang, challenges us to embrace stillness, ponder existence, and question the art of filmmaking itself.
Amidst Warner Bros planning to drop their 2021 films on HBO Max and Disney unveiling their massive 2021 catalog, Days (Rizi) stands out as an antidote to big-budget, soulless corporate products. It is a film that embraces stillness, an overall thoughtful experience that challenges preconceptions of what entertainment is, as well as the purpose of filmmaking as an art form. Directed by Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang, infamous for his slow-paced, reflective films, Days does not try to impress with fast editing, action spectacle, or rapid plotting. Instead, it develops its potent story on loneliness and human connection through long, static takes of characters performing mundane tasks.
The formal ploy behind Days is that it is intentionally un-subtitled. While this might seem alienating on first blush, it instead works to draw the viewer further and further into the film. Without much attention paid to the dialogue (in a film that doesn’t feature much dialogue to begin with), emphasis is placed on shifts in the actor’s facial expressions, their body language, and the inflection they place on words. What is revealed by this choice is the universality of human expression, and how communication and connection is possible without language. By being hyper-specific, focusing only on two characters as they live out their plain days, the film succeeds in developing a grand truth to human life. Almost everyone shares the experiences portrayed in Days: cooking food, washing vegetables, walking through a city. Ming-liang captures these moments in single takes, letting the whole scene breathe. We are watching life unfold. And, while there isn’t much connective tissue between these moments, when put together they create a profound portrait on existence. We do not remember every moment from our days: there will always be gaps in our memories, and this film illustrates that beautifully.
Compared to Tsai Ming-liang’s other masterpieces such as Goodbye, Dragon Inn or Vive L’Amour, Days can’t help but feel less refined, though at the same time it feels more organic and lived-in. Subtle zooms and hesitant camera movements help create this feeling of improvisation that benefits what we are watching. The lives we’re witnessing are all lives, there are moments depicted that anyone could relate to. However, as a slow cinema project, Days does require patience and active viewership. This is not a film to sit passively by, but to reflect on what you’re seeing. Viewers who actively participate in pondering the film’s messages and lengthy scenes of stillness will be rewarded by an acute exploration of isolation and fleeting human connection (themes that resonate even more so amidst the Covid-19 pandemic).
While the idea of long takes of people performing banal activities sounds grueling, another reason why it works so well in Days is that we’re invited to explore the frame with our own eyes. Most mainstream films are directed to always keep the action in the center of the frame, or made to tell the audience what they should be looking at. Days offers a subversive and freeing experience by allowing the viewer to look anywhere in the frame during the many long takes. This lets the viewer become an active participant within the film, heightening engagement and giving one the freedom to explore. What minutia do you discover on the edges of the frame? What detail stands out to you as startlingly real? Ming-liang, in a way, is letting the viewer become the co-director of his own movie.
Days is one of the best films of 2020, partly because it rejects the standard modes of filmmaking that are consuming the entire industry. It is a film that embraces the stillness we find in all our lives, it asks us to think about our own existence, and challenges us to rethink cinema itself. As 2021 begins, what will cinema look like? How will it change? Will film collapse into a monolith, will theaters be a thing of the past, will everything be made simply to make a profit? Days reflexively makes one think of such questions as it stands firmly against traditional modes of storytelling, as it stands against financial interests, and rejects an industry that says there is a certain way to entertain an audience. Because, while Days is a patient film, it is still entertaining, because it urges us to think about how we engage with cinema, with life, and with ourselves.
Days (Rizi) premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 27, 2020. Click here to stay up-to-date with the film’s release.
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