Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

The look of In the Mood for Love includes out-of-focus splashes of fluorescence, intricate patterns adorning wallpaper and drapery, bright lights in dim rooms that imbue faces with a gleaming amber, and numerous uses of toned down lighting to heighten all manner of saturated colors. And that’s just the mise-en-scène; Wong also loves rapid unpredictable cutting, slow motion, and ping-pong camera movements. This style is more intoxicating in his 1995 film Fallen Angels, my only other exposure to his work, but in In the Mood for Love it drenches the screen with a more formal beauty; at the beginning the subdued colors and translucence creates a mood of plaintive isolation, but this eventually grows into a lovely romantic overlay of a profoundly affecting love story. Because of the melancholy and indecision that remains at the heart of the characters, however, the two modes of feeling coexist, and the result is powerfully bittersweet. Isolation is also a theme of Fallen Angels of course, but that is the loneliness of urban existentialism; this is the sad mourning of two people panged by adultery, who fall in love and together contemplate their lives and their marriages. The ending is a devastating ode to the intangibility yet clarity of memory, a poetic lament to what was and can never be again. Critics, and even Wong himself, seem to have their own interpretations of the couple—do they really refuse each other for moral reasons? is there a buried sense of perversity to their relationship? do they actually consummate their love? and so on and so forth. On a first viewing I prefer not to probe the inevitable wells of emotional ambiguity that clearly lie at the heart of a film defined by a moody stillness and preference for atmosphere over action. I would rather let the indescribable mystery of the film, the delirious, enigmatic aftertaste of the shrouded imagery, the intermittent violin theme, and Wong’s vision of the beautiful, heartrending stasis of love remain undisturbed.

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