“That era has passed, nothing that belongs to it exists anymore.”
Love. Next to death, the most explored theme in all of art, all of movies. Falling in love, doomed love, adulterous love, naïve love, people who hate the idea of love, and of course the people who love the idea. Yet few pieces of that art explore all those nuances at once with as much passion, yet chastity, as In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece of two neighbours who discover their respective spouses are cheating on them with each other.
Rather than confront their spouses head on, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) decide instead to explore how this personal tragedy occurred, using each other to play their partners, and in the process falling in love with both each other and the person they are playing. By the nature of this Meisner approach their love looks set to ruin, but the movie explores the blossoming of that relationship – the original title being The Age of Blossoms – in microscopic patterns of behaviour. There is nothing clinical about it, however. It is extraordinary the different emotions that the movie wills out of the characters, and the viewer, in repeating the same lines and same scenarios. But like relationships no two performances are ever the same, and both give Leung and Cheung give those performances for the ages.
Wong Kar-Wai has a masterful command on these events, completely confident in his focus, and what is clear even when obscured. The use of a few locations, the framing, the editing merging perceptions of time, the shallow focus of the lens and the focus of near nothing beyond our two leads (we never see the faces of the cheating spouses). The result could have felt like playing in a doll house if the result wasn’t so natural. The sheer aesthetic beauty of the movie, from Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee’s cinematography, Michael Galasso’s sparing but gorgeous score and indeed the beauty of the two leads, too hides the aching darkness at the heart of the story itself.
But if that performance, cinema, was not present, there is all chance the participants would be unable to take the truth.