Tropical Malady

Sud pralad

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thaïlande, 2004, Gaumont


The sequence starts with a shot of a nocturnal landscape, barely unveiled from the dark of the night, where nothing is really shown to us. During this shot we hear a gun shot and scared birds flying off but nothing on the picture enables us to neither see nor locate this event that is evoked but not shown. Shots follow of a scared man out of breath and the image, nearly completely black, only enables us to see a fine silhouette in backlighting light and it hides his traits and the volumes of his face. Then a partial shot shows us his hands “walking” on the jungle leaves. In a wider shot, the man shakes himself like an animal but we can’t identify the meaning of his moves. Everything in this opening nocturnal sequence creates a mysterious atmosphere, in shots where black, the non-visible, overtakes largely what can be seen. When moving to the wide shot, with the man and the tree in the frame, the tiger is at the same time here and hidden, because he merges with the dark outline of the tree and has no thickness and no content. As he is perfectly still, the time the spectators take to find him on the picture is probably not the same for everyone. He is present in the visible without truly being “shown” like he could have been in a closer shot which would have reframed it. Then, still in the same shot and frame, it’s the character himself who will “show” us the tiger through the beam of his torch: what was up until now only a still black shape becomes a real singular tiger with its colourful striped fur and its breathing moves. What was only a plain black silhouette takes shape and colour. It’s only in the following shots and reverse shots that the man and the animal become clearly visible in the picture. But in the last shot, the tiger’s head goes back partly to the dark, only his right eye can be seen when the character says voice-over: “now, I can see you”. This change of light of the tiger’s head has no realistic justification: it’s a choice from the film maker to make part of the tiger’s head go back to the dark when the character identifies himself to it.