‘In the Mood for Love’: A Lesson in Longing

This essay is by our guest writer, Liz Hew.

For those unfamiliar with the works of Hong Kong-based filmmaker and auteur Wong Kar-Wai, it would be easy, at first glance, to assume that his most well-known feature, In the Mood for Love (2000), is an uncomplicated tale of courtship and romance. However, in Wong’s narrational realm, the thematics of love are rarely delivered without the entanglements of repression, guilt, and pain — familiar nuances of the human condition that afflict his exquisite and complex characters universally. One can argue that In the Mood for Love isn’t so much a chronicle of the innocent love that grows between strangers as it is a contemplation on longing; the agony of letting opportunities slip past, the rumination of “what ifs”, and the arresting sense of finality.

The protagonists at the heart of the story, Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chui-Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), engage in a tentative yet sensual dance throughout the film’s entirety to its swooning score (mainly a recurring leitmotif of “Yumeji’s Theme” performed by Shigeru Umebayashi), and the cool timbre of Nat King Cole’s Spanish tracks, “Aquellos Ojos Verdes” and “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás”. Both characters remain apprehensive of baring their true feelings to one another until it’s too late — yet their trepid concealment eventually transpires to a flirtation that at times, balances dangerously on the cusp of a real, forbidden love affair. It’s Wong Kar Wai’s command of framing his characters’ poignancy and yearning from intense repression (both self-imposed and societal), married with the richly evocative cinematography of his frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, which lends In the Mood for Love its haunting emotional resonance.

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“I’m Not Interested in Successful People” — An Interview with ‘Jumpman’ Director Ivan I. Tverdovsky

This interview was done by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

Jumpman, the latest film by Ivan I. Tverdovsky, concerns an orphaned boy who suffers from congenital analgesia – meaning that he feels no pain. One day his estranged mother picks him up from the orphanage and together they run a blackmailing scheme whereby he jumps in front of cars and blackmails their owners for money. Set in and around Moscow, it’s a seething indictment of corruption in contemporary Russian society. The third film from the young director shows him in total command of his style, which deploys long takes to fully immerse us into the lives of its characters. Soundtracked by artists such as ЛУНА, and set in popular Moscow locales such as Squat 3/4 club, it maintains a contemporary feel, giving it a strong chance of connecting with young viewers in Russia today.

The movie celebrated its premiere in the competition slot of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. I sat down with the director to talk about his inspiration for the film, his attraction to characters who are outsiders, and the significance of national symbols.

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Criterion Month: Andrea Arnold’s Short Films… From ‘Milk’ to ‘Wasp’

This piece is by our guest writer, Shaun Alexander.

As a part of the Criterion collection release of Andrea Arnold’s 2009 film, Fish Tank, you are treated to not only the Jury Prize winning film, but also three short films Arnold directed previously: Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and Wasp (2003). When you watch these shorts as a collective it is clear to see how they became stepping stones for Fish Tank and Arnold’s other future films, which tackle themes that can disturb viewers at times with intense depictions of sexuality, poverty and family relationships.

The reason for my own personal interest in Arnold’s work is due to the socio-economic setting. Set in and around East London / Essex, Fish Tank has a number of locations which are within walking distance from where I have lived the majority of my life. These are streets I have walked down, these are roads I have driven past and that level of familiarity is not just with the setting but with the characters we see. I am friends with, worked with and went to school with the people that Arnold often focuses on in her filmography – good-hearted people with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Having these personal investments in Arnold’s work has made it fascinating to rediscover these short films and the way in which their ideas are clear influences on her later work.

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What Transpires Within: Self-realisation and Trans Narratives in ‘Dead Ringers’

This essay is by our guest writer, Levin Tan.

You could say that David Cronenberg is something of a Freudian fanboy.

His body of work is frequently dissected by esteemed film critics and scholars using psychoanalytic approaches, particularly with his early career horror films that plunge you into the visceral and the venereal. This is no surprise – after all, psychoanalysis carries a heavy emphasis on images and metaphors relating to sex and the body. However, when considering psychoanalysis from a modern day perspective, it is clear that it has its issues. We currently live in a time where sexuality and gender allow for fluidity, making Freud’s rigid adherence to the male-female binary appear rather stale. For Freud, the “male” is always antecedent to the “female”; as if consulting the story of Eve being born from Adam’s rib, so, too, did Freud view the female as a derivative of the male.

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Criterion Month: The Erotically Delibrate Body in ‘In the Mood for Love’

This essay is by our guest writer, Amanda Walencewicz.

Selecting the most indelible images from In the Mood for Love is somewhat of a fool’s errand, as Nathan Rabin alludes to in his review of the film for The Dissolve: “A coffee-table book commemorating every unforgettable image in In the Mood for Love would run many thousands of pages long and include literally every frame of the film,” he writes. But I would venture that for most viewers it is the gently swiveling hips of Maggie Cheung as she walks in her qipao, with her placid face and perfect coif. Her partner in the film, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, conjures a similar image, of impeccably tailored suits, slicked-back hair, and a face that displays only the quietest renderings of emotion. From their impenetrable physical presences comes not a stilted or awkward romance, but one that is deeply seductive.

Romance would seem to stem from openness, from unburdening oneself from the superficiality of one’s surroundings, from releases of tension and admissions of attraction. In the Mood for Love, instead builds that tension and never releases it, creating an unbearable longing for the characters and the viewer, which is satisfied only through the decadent visuals of the body. It is not a cheap tease, however, that director Wong Kar-wai goes for. It is not the idea of finding great pleasure in the small concessions given out of deprivation, the glimpse of the ankle on a fully-covered woman as it were. The body is a constant presence, a surrounding in which the viewer is immersed, excessive and lingered upon. It is both a counterpoint to the restraint of the characters and a result of it – the unintended byproduct of their very conscious actions.

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Criterion Throwback Review: ‘The Great Dictator’

This essay is by our guest writer, Haden Cross.

The first time I watched The Great Dictator, it was four days after the inauguration of Donald Trump, and the only remark on that context in my Letterboxd review was that it had been a “hard day in the real world” that prompted the viewing. Eighteen months later – the timeline of political news long turned into a blur – I assumed that particular hard day was the start of the infamous travel ban. It wasn’t. That was to come three days later. The headlines from January 24th were not good by any means, but since then, the standards of what was considered notably bad had changed; the context in which I saw Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 anti-Nazi masterpiece had altered, and I was curious to see how it had held up in the meantime, and whether it would convey the specific sense of determined hope as it had in my first viewing. In the wake of the last year and a half, the way in which I related to the film shifted dramatically, from revering it as a valiant act of protest to seeing it more as a time capsule to a parallel moment in the past, an emblem of the cyclical nature of history.

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The Great Dictator does not shy away from who and what it is trying to skewer. Adenoid Hynkel’s regime in Tomainia, with its double-cross motif, assembles a visual parallel that is instantly understandable even in just a freeze-frame image. With that established, the film’s primary method of criticism is turning these stand-ins for Hitler and the Third Reich into the height of slapstick. As Hynkel, Chaplin tumbles down stairs, climbs catlike up a curtain, and throws temper tantrums that make him impossible to take seriously as an autocrat. The German language itself devolves into a world salad peppered with nonsensical sounds during the parodies of Hitler’s bombastic speeches. Much in the same way outlets like Saturday Night Live have taken potshots at the Trump administration, The Great Dictator sought to cut down power through humor, offering an image of a powerful international figure that cannot possibly earn one’s respect.

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Criterion Throwback Review: Powell and Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

This review is by our guest writer, Laura Venning.

This month, A Matter of Life and Death is finally enshrined in the Criterion Collection, joining Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger favourites The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and The Tales of Hoffman.

While often eclipsed by the dark melodrama of The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death is an equally ravishing film that explores nothing less than war, peace, life, death, and love on a personal and cosmic scale. In this time of violent nationalism and bigotry, it’s a film that gives hope to the viewer and one that certain world leaders would do well to see.

It’s 1945 and Royal Air Force pilot Peter Carter (David Niven)’s time is up. His plane’s been hit and he’s hurtling towards his inevitable death. In his final moments, he quotes poetry to American radio operator June (Kim Hunter), but then, he miraculously washes up unharmed on the shore. The heavenly bureaucracy responsible for processing the deceased realises they’ve made their first mistake in a thousand years and dispatches Conductor 71 (Marius Goring) to retrieve him. Unfortunately for them, these extra hours on Earth have meant Peter and June have now met and fallen in love. In order to stay alive, Peter must appeal to the heavenly court and prove the depth of his love while kindly Doctor Reeves (Roger Livesey) fears his celestial hallucinations are a sign of brain damage.

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