I recently watched Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. So yes, it came highly recommended. One of my friends had been pestering me for months to give it a watch. And guess what? I was blown away when I least expected it.
One of the things I usually do, before settling down to watch a movie is to actually catch a glimpse of the trailer beforehand. It was no different this time around. The first thing that struck me while I was watching the trailer was the background music. I won’t be exaggerating if I say that it tug at my heart strings. This particular background score quite efficiently relays a very heterogeneous set of emotions – the pangs of separation coupled with unrequited love.
Mr. Chow and Mrs. Su happen to be neighbours. Maggie Cheung’s Mrs. Su is the prototype of the elegant, graceful and somewhat docile wife. Tony Leung’s Mr. Chow is the ideal , loyal husband. Things roll into motion when Chow and Su find out that their respective spouses are having an affair.
The narrative is set in 1960s Hong Kong. The film rather crudely asserts the prevalent social conservatism when Mrs. Suen tells Mrs. Chan, “It’s right to enjoy yourself when you are young. But don’t overdo it.”
One scene that plays on loop several times is that of Mrs. Chan going out- still dressed in her work clothes- to buy noodles from the shop in the alley. As she descends down the stairs Mr. Chow is seen alighting the stairs. The scene is set in a very dimly lit alleyway and the interplay of light and shadow runs parallelly with the emotions of the two actors on screen. Both the characters are helpless and alienated when their spouses are away from home and their repeated encounters in the alley perhaps provides some kind of reassurance.
The great thing about this movie which also sets it apart from other movies of this category is that, we hardly relate or identify with the characters; it brings out our more empathetic side. Usually films with a similar storyline would focus mostly on the cheating spouses, but here the focus shifts from the adulterers to the innocent victims of adultery. Chow and Chan crave love. Although they feel strongly for each other , neither acts out their desires because they are bound by a moral stand, that each believe the other has taken. Even when the act our how their spouses might have seduced each other, their eyes betray their mutual yearning for love.
Wong Kar Wai does a brilliant job with the aesthetics of the film, be it Mrs. Chan’s vibrant and richly colored costumes or the frame within frame presentation of each scene. The ‘frame within frame’ concept presents a very vital theme. It’s as if the people within the frame (mainly Mr.Chow and Mrs.Chan) are being constantly watched and this constant vigilance perhaps, is what keeps them alert and on their toes. The two main characters never for once get physical on screen.
The film begins with the tagline : “He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.” And ends with a long shot of Ang kor Watt in Cambodia where Mr. Chow is seen pressing his lips to a hole in the wall, confiding a secret,one which he has carried with him, rather painfully for several years.
Another delight is the soundtrack. It is brilliant and evocative. For me, it is up there with Krzysztof Komeda’s brilliant soundtrack from Rosemary’s Baby. Also Nat Cole’s “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” brings out the film’s tension as also its cohesiveness.
Goes without saying, this film for me is the epitome of beautiful cinema.