Friday, February 13, 2009
#21 Film of the Decade- In the Mood for Love
In the Mood for Love- Wong Kar-Wai (2001)
This might sound like some kind of Valentine's appropriate pick; but if you've seen the movie, you would know that the mood for love is mostly doomed and unrequited. In the film, a pair of next-door neighbors finds out that their spouses have been cheating on them, and they develop a platonic relationship to deal with that betrayal. Although their feelings for each other deepen, they vow to remain faithful, refusing to extend the same pain that plagues them.
That description sounds boring, an hour and a half of people trying not to have sex with each other, but the movie's actually riveting. While Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung turn in convincing performances, the real star is the technical prowess behind the camera.
In critics' praise for the AMC series "Mad Men," they always get around to the art direction and costumes replicating Eisenhowerian America, but that show looks trashy compared with the elegance of Wong's late '50s Hong Kong. Indeed, a certain vulnerable nostalgia for such an uptight, formal period becomes a character in the film, and we would never buy it without the warm colors and smoky interiors captured by Wong and director of photography Christopher Doyle. Their shot selection and composition here are perfect, as if there is no other place the camera could ever be. Their use of slow-motion is unparalleled and reinforces the recurring theme of minute moments and movements carrying great weight. For instance, this scene is basically the two main characters buying noodles, but it's elevated to an unspeakable beauty with the slow-motion. Look at the rhythm of that overhead light swinging, the short focus captured on that smoke rising up from the thermos, and the way that, as Chow Mo-Wan descends the stairs, everything becomes obscured by shadow except for the bright white back of his collar, which seems to hang in the air like a ghost. I remember seeing this and thinking that the sparingly-used halo effect Doyle gets with his light is a lot like looking at things without my glasses. I don't know what that means, but I know that I mean it. Anyway, watch this and tell me he isn't one of the top five DPs alive.
The repetition of those sequences and their accompanying theme, along with the use of Nat King Cole's music, is hypnotizing. More than anything, In the Mood for Love seeks to create a chaste but undeniable ambience of romance and, in the process, show how damned inconvenient it can be sometimes. It laments the feeling of getting pricked with that arrow at the wrong time, but it retains the powerful, transformative magic of that feeling too.