Chen Shiang-chyi’s Ling suffers from a similar condition to David Zellner’s protagonist in the recent American-Japanese film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Yet, where the latter escapes from her mundane life into a magical-realist world of stashed booty and sympathetic policemen, Ling is left isolated and alone, with little to cling to in terms of fanciful escapism.
Exit opens in an impoverished, faded part of urbanised Taiwan. Unpopulated and unstimulating, the film’s landscape goes a long way to reflecting Ling’s inner psyche. After being laid off, her problems really begin to mount, with a combination of nascent menopausal symptoms and existential angst enveloping her as she searches desperately for any sense of meaning.
Initially, it looks as though some sort of release might come from the exaggerated movement of tango dancing. Though after her attempts to dress up, don beauty masks and join a friend’s tango class leave her deflated, it is clear no hope lies in such an endeavour.
As Ling continues to push on through her monotonous experience – caring for her bed-ridden mother, making numerous unanswered calls to her daughter and husband – Chen Shiang-chyi’s performance moves from strength to strength. Unapologetically naturalistic, Hsiang’s direction shuns melodrama in favour of raw, understated moments. The most openly emotion scene of all comes from Ling’s anguish at not being able to break out of her broken front door. The more painful sadness lies in the fact she can’t break out of her hermetic existence. The routine continues; the loneliness sets in. In Chen Shiang-chyi’s capable hands, it becomes a feeling of futility to which we can all relate.
The one activity that interests Ling is caring for the patient across from her mother-in-law’s bed. Eyes bandaged, groaning and abandoned, this man gives the otherwise purposeless Ling a chance to seize her identity. The simple act of massaging a stranger’s torso becomes its own sort of therapy, a reclamation of her middle-aged femininity.
For those with a penchant for slow burners, subtle moments of beauty and brutal honesty, look no further than Exit. It’s in those prolonged pockets of silence that the film really takes hold, the faint rhythm of tango music echoing in the background.
Exit is released nationwide on 24th April 2015.
Watch the trailer for Exit here: