Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pining for the Opposite of Loneliness

Once in a while, there comes a movie that leaves you in awe. But these are the movies where you watch the movie and then all the other "bonus features" the DVD has to offer... and watch the movie again with the director's commentary (yes, you do, just admit it).

Then there are movies where one element simply stuns you. It could be the music or an actor or the cinematography. It is as if you have spotted a work of art - you don't need to watch the additional scenes or have the director point out things to you. No handholding required. You can just watch the movie over and over again, to catch that one element.

Fa yeung nin wa (In the Mood for Love) is one of them movies. But this is not a review of the movie, or the director (Wong Kar Wai). Both are fabulous(, if you really need to know).

It is just about my impressions on the costumes and art direction in the film (both by William Chang). Costumes? Art Direction...?! I know, I know...elements that are often taken for granted. After all, how can it matter what someone wears, as long as it looks authentic and the same goes with the sets. Watch this movie - to see the power clothes can have on your emotions.

Art Direction. The color palette here is predominantly sepia and lighting adds just the right tone to all the colors. The movie is set in the Hong Kong of the 60s. Kar Wai has not taken upon himself to recreate more than a few fixed indoor locations - crowded apartments, offices, a diner and a small place to grab a quick meal. And some dimly lit streets. Nothing else. Oh yes, the mirrors and curtains, the rain and (cigarette) smoke. The entire movie is closed in on the two main characters. But you could not care less about the rest.

To see what I mean, just look for the repeated scenes where Cheung goes out with her tiffin-carrier type box to get dinner from a hole-in-the-wall diner. The exposed lightbulbs and the depressed and exhausted men, the walls, her wait and the walk back home. As a director, I admire Kar Wai, for having put so much faith in these elements. He does get to choregraph the slow motion moves. But after a while, you realize that the slow motion shots are just so you can drink in all the images and carefully hold them inside of you. For words are hardly the best way to convey a mood this intense.

Maggie Cheung's cheongsams (about 20 of them, I think) can add about 4 more layers of depth to the story. The high collar, fitted style, her coiffured hair, impeccable makeup and those dagger heels. All this just throws her right in character - its almost like one of those ornately twisted and braided bamboo displays you see in chinese stores. Her stifled expressions and few words are almost a distraction. All you need to do is watch her as she sits or stands or moves in these cheongsams.

At the end of it, you are not in love, but in the mood for it, most definitely.

"It was from an essay of G. K. Chesterton's on a fairly unknown painter called G. F. Watts. "Man knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless, and more nameless than the colors of an autumn forest. . . . Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semitones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals. He believes that an ordinary civilized stockbroker can really produce out of his own inside noises which denote all the mysteries of memory and all the agonies of desire." In other words, language can never accommodate the enormous reality beyond it...." (src: a PEN article on Borges)

* The title comes from the wonderful little book - Everything is Illuminated... rather the motion picture based on the same. Alex Perchov, the Ukranian has a 'premium' english vocabulary. Go watch ;)


Ludwig said...

Oh well done, BM, for watching this one. To tell you the truth, one hadn't noticed the clothes at all, but definitely the art direction. Or whatever thing it is that sets the mood for the movie. The tiffin-carrier-Nair tea kadai-rain-bulb thing was stunning. What about the music? You haven't mentioned the music. Mention the music! God knows what it was, but the whole bassy stringy sound of it sat very well with the raindrops and the bulb. Most delic. movie...

The Black Mamba said...

ah ludwig, wonderful movie, yes.

How could you not have noticed the clothes?! They are arresting! It makes it seem like all these things are just holding her up and she would just crumble and fall apart without their support. And there is no way to just sit back or relax in an outfit like that. To imagine that you would live in something like that...I suppose if you ever had to fit yourself into something similar your attention would have been all on it.

The Music - adds so much to the movie, doesn't it. What an eceletic mix - from Nat King Cole to something that plays on chinese radio (with "happy birthday" announcements thrown in).

The string piece that gets repeated over and over again (like some scenes) also grows on you.

I watched this about 6 months back, so the tracks are not fresh on my mind now.

The two spanish songs I recall, beautifully performed by Nat King Cole, in his funny american accented spanish, but the lyrics are so perfect for the plot - Quizas, Quizas, Quizas and Aquellos... ojos verde..

The compilation as a whole is somewhat all over the place and does not lend itself to being listened in one sitting. but I guess these are the hints Kar Wai tries to throw in, to show us Hong Kong circa 1960 (a lot of influences). And he pulled it off quite well I think.

So there, you asked me about the music... what about the editing, I say? (well, that should be a post on Chungking, you think) :)

The Black Mamba said...

"tiffin-carrier-Nair tea kadai-rain-bulb thing"

endoru perfect description!

Champa said...

oh, I looove this movie:). and her hips swaying to the music and the raindrops.........too much.

Ludwig said...

>How could you not have
>noticed the clothes?

We are like that wonly. Although the thing about not being able to relax in an outfit like that does strike a chord.

Like the way W.K.Wai borrows from all kinds of music from all over for his movies (from "California Dreamin'" to Suryakanth Tripathi 'Nirala' or whoever). But being moderately musically illiterate, we didn't catch onto such subtleties as Nat King Cole and so on...

There should definitely be a post on Chungking!