Tropical Malady ★★★★½


[Reviewed from NYFF '04.]

Opinion seems divided about whether this exquisitely uncanny gay romance tells one linear, simple-yet-oblique story, switching rhetorical gears at the midpoint, or whether its mythic second half to some extent recapitulates its mundane first. Both positions have merit—though I found a number of apparent rhymes on second viewing supporting the latter—but more compelling than either, to my mind, is the film's implicit suggestion that no amount of artful, naturalistic observation can possibly convey the atavistic turmoil lurking within the human heart. Unexpected though the rupture may be, it arrives precisely at the moment when conventional representation, however inventive, precise and assured, starts to feel painfully inadequate. The jungle adventure that follows—beautiful, mysterious, savage, tentative, spontaneous, unforgettable—deserves a less hackneyed and misleading phrase than "pure cinema," but somebody else will have to come up with the neologism. I'm already a week behind.