In The Mood For Love

LetterboxD review link

I saw In The Mood For Love, for the first time, on a whim a few years ago. I was just starting to get into films, hadn’t seen many art-house films, and only a few foreign ones. I fell in love with this movie almost immediately. And have counted it among one of my favorites for a long time.

I’ve re-watched it a few times since, the most recent was as a part of a Wong Kar-wai retrospective at the Metrograph theater in NYC. Seeing it in conjunction with 2046 made some of the plot points jump out in a way I hadn’t considered before. But more than anything else, it reminded me of the powerful way Wong can elicit a mood or feeling from a viewer purely through the use of images. The story is compelling as ever, and the actors deserve much of the credit for the success of this film, but it is Wong’s directing, framing and cinematography that really makes this film soar.

Shots that frame each character within a frame, make us complicit in the way the characters feel watched, while we do the watching, and they struggle to find a way to live as their full selves. The claustrophobia of tiny Hong Kong rooms, hallways, and alleyways add to the sense that these characters can never fully release themselves, never live full lives without fear of bumping into something, knocking it off a shelf.

The purity of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s courtship and love is lifted directly from a past time but because Wong and his actors believe so fully in the story, it is sold to us in a genuine but updated way. I felt similarly, recently, about La La Land, and its central relationship. Cliché is dangerous, and no other topic is as susceptible to it as love. But when we have an authentic exploration of themes around love, created through top notch acting, story-telling, editing and direction, clichés are easily avoided.