Cry (Japan, 2019)
There is a base materiality to Hirobumi Watanabe’s Cry, the story of a pig handler (played by the director himself) is told in circles: He eats breakfast with his elderly mother. He walks through a field in the countryside. He tends to pigs crowded into a mud-soaked barn. He eats lunch beneath a set of power lines. He returns to the pigsty and gets back to work. He walks home. He eats dinner with his mother. He washes the dishes and cleans her dentures. He reads a book. It cuts to black, and the days starts again.
The film is structurally similar to Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011), complete with stark black-and-white cinematography and near-silent protagonists, and thematically reminiscent of Georges Franju’s abattoir-set Blood of the Beasts (1949) or Maud Alpi’s mesmeric slaughterhouse documentary Still Life (2017). Yet Cry is never oppressive in its seriousness. Like Watanabe’s other films since Poolside Man (2016), Cry infuses the repetitious cycles of everyday life with laconic existential humour, finishing his cycle with a light weekend trip to the movies.
Still, despite its occasionally humorous turns and casual 75-minute runtime, Cry is almost oppressively meaningless. Woohyun Bang’s black-and-white cinematography is almost blinding at points, while at others, the silent protagonist is barely distinguishable from the dark spaces he inhabits. In other places, Bang’s cinematography emphases the cross-hatched metal supports of the pig pen, imprisoning the unnamed man behind the same bars that separate him from the animals. Despite the silence of its protagonist, the soundtrack is dominated loud noises – wind, drumbeats and the screeching of pigs.
Much could be made of the film’s title (sometimes translated into English as “Scream”), an obvious reference to the wretched squeals of pigs that dominate its soundtrack, but could also be applied to the existential banality of its silent protagonist’s day-to-day life, or to the frustrations of spectators provoked by its abject boringness. For these reasons, many viewers will find the film’s tediousness a sadomasochistic exercise at best and a painful waste of time at worst. The film jars with every convention of pleasurable narrative filmmaking, and ultimately ends up as a heap of miserable cinematic ennui.
With all that said, for viewers willing to fester in its meaninglessness, there’s something oddly pleasurable in Cry. The presence of mud-soaked pigs – shots in various positions eating, resting, and having sex – could be thematized in any number of ways to mean any number of things, but they are ultimately meaningless. Just as its protagonist lacks language, the film is devoid of symbolic meaning. Its events simply occur, and do not – and need not – become anything. Watanabe’s pigs are not a metaphor, but an absence of metaphor.
For viewers willing to wallow in its base materiality, Cry may well be a rewarding experience. For everyone else, best stay out of the sty.