The scene shifts when he goes for a treatment on his neck, which apparently refers to a real ailment suffered by the actor that was previously referenced in “The River.” In any case, when the scene shifts again, we are longer with Lee but with a young Laotian man in his apartment as he gives himself a bath. We are never told anything about this character, but he’s a certain type of sex worker who gives Lee an erotic massage that occupies a chunk of the film’s second hour.
“Days” announces at its opening that it contains no subtitles. But none are needed as the meaning of the few snippets of dialogue can be easily surmised. Somewhat to my surprise, I found this latest example of Tsai’s minimalism not only appropriate but pleasing. In interviews, the director indicated that he found in this film a way of working that required minimal budget and crew, and thus allowed him greater creative freedom. The film itself has the feeling of being made from that liberated mindset.
But I must say that the current state of the world surely had something to do with my liking of “Days.” If Tsai is a poet of solitude and its discontents, this is the right moment for him. Though filmed and premiered before the pandemic, his latest captures its cloistered mood perfectly.
As a gay man, Tsai was able to stage the 20-minute erotic massage in his film in a way that feels as natural as it does accurate and authentic to the characters. Contrast that to the awkward inauthenticity of “I Carry You with Me.” When I first heard of the Sundance prize winner, it was described as a “Mexican gay film.” Too bad it’s not. Mexico produces some outstanding gay films, and my hope for innovative programming at the 2020 NYFF included the possibility that it might seek out work from the likes of prize-winning Mexican gay auteur Julian Hernandez.
Instead, we get “I Carry You with Me,” a film about Mexican gay men directed by a white Michigan native named Heidi Ewing. Ewing has previously made documentaries, including “Jesus Camp,” and her latest reportedly started out as a doc about a Mexican couple who have lived for decades in New York as successful restauranteurs. In some of the film we see the two men, Ivan and Gerardo, now middle-aged, playing themselves in doc-style footage of their present-day lives. But most of “I Carry You with Me,” is given over to their youthful lives (here they’re played by actors) in Puebla, Mexico, where their fresh romance is tested by the fact that closeted Ivan wants to make an illegal move to the U.S. while openly gay is Gerardo is afraid to make the leap.