Vive L’Amour: A Room of One’s Own, by David Bax
Certain elements of 1990s style and fashion have been creeping their way back into the culture over recent years, particularly that draped but boxy look you might associate with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ frocks on Seinfeld or Tom Cruise’s suits in Rain Man. For that reason, all three main characters in Tsai Ming-Liang’s newly restored Vive L’Amour from 1994 seem strikingly well-dressed, even though they inhabit varying levels of coolness. But Tsai’s cinematic style is not subjects to the peaks and valleys of au courant tastes. It’s timeless.
When it comes to cinema, there is a tendency to equate the descriptor “stylized” with frenetic, ostentatious filmmaking. Tsai’s camera, despite having all the precision and choreography of works by more showy directors, is more patient and exacting. Revealing pans or sudden close-ups don’t stir emotions because of their boldness but because Tsai builds to them until they become inevitable, almost as if he’s been waiting for them to come along. The result is catharsis, not shock.
Tsai employs dialogue in much the same way, sparsely but revealingly. Vive L’Amour‘s premise, in which three different people–a real estate agent (Yang Kuei-mei), her sometime lover (Chen Chao-jung) and a suicidal salesman (Lee Kang-sheng)–each end up with a set of keys to an empty, luxurious apartment in Taiwan of which they attempt to make use without the others’ knowledge, lends itself to long stretches without anyone talking, seeing as they are mostly alone and/or being surreptitious. Yet, it would be criminally wrong to describe the film as slow or uneventful.
That’s because these three use the apartment largely for things traditionally kept out of the public eye, most of them sexual in nature. In fact, despite its hushed tone and the inclusion of decidedly unfunny incidents such as attempted suicide, Vive L’Amour could, not entirely incorrectly, be described as a sex farce. The three part-time denizens of the space spend much of the film’s running time engaged in ribaldry, near misses or both.
More than that, though, Vive L’Amour is a testament to the emotional necessity of private space and the longing for it often felt by those of us who live in crowded cities. We need our own real estate not just as a place to put our stuff but also as a place to put ourselves, the versions of ourselves we don’t show to others as well as the versions of ourselves we’d like to be.