Sunday, July 06, 2008


Brian DePalma once said that he loves to shoot beautiful women. In contrast, Wong Kar-Wai loves to shoot women because he thinks they're beautiful. Yes, he's photographed some of the loveliest faces in Hong Kong cinema - and now, with My Blueberry Nights, some of America's - but there is an adoring interest behind Kar-Wai's lens that gets at feminine beauty much more deeply than just a basic appreciation of a shapely physique:

The way Faye Wong dances to pop music in Chungking Express, the way Maggie Cheung descends the stairs in In The Mood For Love, the way Ziyi Zhang crosses her legs in 2046. Through these physical poses, Wong Kar-Wai's actresses express universal emotions that would only be cheapened with the assistance of dialogue. The image that stays with me most after watching My Blueberry Nights is Norah Jones scooting up to a juke box for security after a gun is pulled out by a patron in her bar.

Norah Jones is Wong Kar-Wai's muse in this, his first English language love story. Her dark hair, dark eyes, and red lips blend in with the rest of the ornately lit sets and flawless designs. Actors in a Kar-Wai scene are as crucial to the filming as the tint of painted writing on a window or the glare off of wet pavement.

Like the lukewarm critical response to last year's The Darjeeling Limited, the equally ho-hum reviews for My Blueberry Nights is a telltale sign for where most of our movie experts have their heads. Like Terrence Malick's The New World, My Blueberry Nights (as well as the equally beguiling 2046...) strikes me as the purest of cinema. These are movies that still have the cinematic power to blow you over even with the sound turned off.

Thanks, also, to Wong Kar-Wai for reviving David Strathairn and getting him to shake-off the boo-boo stigma he got from that wooden performance in Good Night, and Good Luck. George Clooney shut off the character in Strathairn's odd, downy face in that silly hagiographic flick of his by forcing him into caricature mode. (Can you really blame Strathairn? Clooney asked him to deify a news man... a bonkers request.) In My Blueberry Nights, Strathairn's heartbroken performance as a bar regular and police officer in Nashville brings to mind Harry Dean Stanton's in Paris, TX. Wong Kar-Wai makes him human again.

Slowly it sneaks up on you that My Blueberry Nights is a road movie that connects to that romantic notion we all have about a self-cleansing road trip. Elizabeth (Jones) falls for Jeremy (Jude Law) following a messy break-up, but instead of risking him as a rebound she cuts herself free for a year only keeping in contact with him via unaddressed postcards. (At each new temporary destination, her name fragments off into Lizzie, Beth, and Betty before becoming one again as Elizabeth when the voyage comes full circle.) When Elizabeth returns to NYC the kiss she shares with Jeremy is like a perfect yin and yang embrace or infinity symbol photographed from above. Sure, she'll take another slice of blueberry pie, but more importantly, she's now secured her own personal blueberry knight.


Marilyn said...

Put me on the side of critics who have problems with Wong Kar-Wai. I have seen In the Mood for Love, well, as much as I could stand, and just don't connect with a photographic movie. I go to the movies to be told a story, not simply to be dazzled by the visuals. I love dazzling visuals, of course, but it that's the only thing recommending a feature film (experimental is another matter), I'm oh so bored. Do others feel this way?

1minutefilmreview said...

And that unforgettable blueberry kiss too...

Fox said...

Good comments Marilyn. It has me thinking about the old question over sound and if it's made the movie goers eyes less attentive and active.

My wife and I have a common disagreement over what's most important in a film. She'll say screenplay, I'll go with director. It's a silly argument to have b/c both are important, but it's fun.

Still I tend to teeter on the side of placing visuals as my number one element. Film is a visual art after all, so, to me, it seems the obvious # 1 factor.

I love storytelling and good screenwriting, of course. I can roll off a list of films I love that aren't flashy and that are driven by script over camera - the films of James Toback for instance.

Still I can't escape the notion that it's the image that rules. Take away the visual from the equation of "visual + story = film", and there is no film,... but there is still story.

In the case of My Blueberry Nights or Wong Kar-Wai in general, the stories are told through the evocativeness of the visuals. I always find his stories to be deceptively simple. For instance, I remember discussing 2046 with friends and some of them were saying that it was confusing. To me, I think they were just overthinking it. On paper, there's not much there to 2046 and b/c of that people had a hard time being led simply by the visual.

Fox said...

So true, 1 Minute...

I thought it would be gross to kiss somebody with food pieces on their lips, but Wong Kar-Wai makes it seem like something to try.

Jason Bellamy said...

This movie was hit and miss with me, mostly dependant on whether or not I felt like the plot had consequence.

That said, Strathairn is excellent. I'm with you there. The moment when he pulls out all those Day 1 AA chips is heartbreaking.

elgringo said...

That was a well-written review if I've ever read one. I'll be watching this one soon. Thanks! Just the idea of watching Norah Jones in a film give me goosebumps.


Fox said...

Jason - And I love the way Strathairn plays that moment and the way Wong Kar-Wai frames it. In lesser hands that scene coulda been a melodramatic mess, but the two of them nail it.

El G - Thanks for the kind words, and yeah, I am with you on the Norah Jones eye candy. Though, I disagree with those that feel she doesn't act well in this film. I think she's actually quite good.