In the Mood for Love (rewatch)
Wong Kar-wai’s films are full of ambiguities, little moments of languor or frenzied motion that don’t so much stick out of the dense textures as infuse them with an odd charge. But I can’t recall anything in his filmography quite like Mr. Chow’s and Mrs. Chan’s spouses, in both their exclusively back-facing appearances and their place in the emotional narrative. Aside from a few direct, curt but not impolite interactions, they function as structuring absences, fitting into the abbreviated scene structure of the first third of the film with furtive phone conversations, often comprised of single lines that convey a whole world of feeling, just outside of their spouses’ – and the viewer’s – comprehension. Chow’s wife, and perhaps Chan’s husband towards the end, leave them so suddenly that I didn’t even notice it on first watch, and yet they are brought to life by those reenactments, those attempts to subsume identities that can’t help but become something more real, more mysteriously captivating.
Inevitably, the most traditionally Wongian sentiments and dialogue come in the final interactions between Chow and Chan, almost sounding like the voiceover of one of his other film’s protagonists, when the emotional connections and bittersweet recollections of missed romances come to the fore. All else is cloaked and yearning, which the filmmaking makes almost unbearably heartbreaking.
The Day After
“…a rare art that utilizes concrete human forms to reveal the phenomenal disposition and attitude of humans.”
Ever since the introduction of the zoom, Hong’s filmmaking has relied to some palpable extent upon the conspicuous, the emphatic gesture of a tripod-mounted camera. But I can’t recall him utilizing his main outlet for stylistic flourishes to the degree that he does for most of the conversations, panning back and forth, never holding on one face for more than ten seconds at a time. This suits The Day After, undeniably fractious and heated even by Hong’s standards, and especially the frazzled headspace in which Bongwan (Kwon Hae-hyo) is in. But what makes it so much more effective are the “bookend” conversations, both of which display a deep well of disappointment, in which the camera holds on the two figures for the majority of the shot. At one end of the film, there is total deceit and a stubborn lack of clarity. At the other, genuine change and a willingness to embrace a new beginning. In the middle lies every emotion, every obsession, everything that comprises the films of Hong.
I feel like the conceptualization of Close-Up – both in the general film cultural sense and specifically in my recollection – as a seamless docufiction runs counter to the actual experience of seeing the film. In truth, it is a true hybrid, with something more than half the film taken up by the “real” courtroom scene, shot in 16mm, and the rest by “fictional” reenactments, shot in 35mm. Of course, Kiarostami’s touch in this is such that both take on elements of the other – in particular, the chronicling of certain moments (like the conversation in the taxi) that takes on a whole new charge when considering that real people are telling their own stories. But a key factor in what makes the ending so overwhelming is the long-awaited fusing of these two impulses. The real is shot with a clarity that nevertheless is interrupted; the viewer strains to hear what ultimately cannot be spoken, and can simply be expressed with universal languages: music and vision.