In the Mood for Love, 20 years of a masterpiece

In the Mood For Love: claustrophobic and refined portrait of a timeless story

20  years ago one of the greatest masterpieces of the new millennium was released in cinemas, Wong Kar-wai’s poetic maxim and in general one of the most beautiful Asian films ever.
In the mood for love does not tell a real story, but recreates an atmosphere, a feeling, a condition of the soul: love. Yet In the mood for love is nothing more than a non-love story, not lived, not declared and not consummated.

Wong Kar-wai writes nothing less than a poem, a timeless tale of a couple who discover their respective spouses are lovers.

The two wonder about how the betrayal of their partners came about and begin a Pirandello game of fiction and reality. They act, recreate imaginary situations, continually confuse their condition with that of others to create a fascinating story within the story. The couple does nothing but support each other and prepare for future pain, until they realize that the fear of pain outweighs the pain itself.

The film therefore reflects on the little big fictions of reality, the lies and secrets kept hidden from the bigotry of the people. In fact, all the other characters are nothing more than noisy individuals who could rumor about their encounters and make them appear as lovers. In the mood for love reflects on the breaking of traditions such as marriage and the impossibility of certain values. Chan and Chow don’t want to be like them, they don’t want to cheat on their marriage, but at the same time they realize that if they keep dating they would make the same mistakes as their partners. Theirs is a search for composure, elegance and innocence within a situation that would inevitably lead them to betray and err.

But then who is wrong? Who respects non-existent values ​​or who is looking for the beauty of a new love even if betraying? In the mood for love does not answer, it leaves the question open to future generations and frees the film from a historical setting.

Because first of all In the mood for love is a film about time. A clock is framed several times while voices can be heard that make us understand what is happening. The 1960s are just a pretext to talk about a universal condition, a love hidden within the walls of an apartment from which he cannot leave. But then we come to the final scene, in which their love is told in the temple, which for centuries has held the secret of many lovers. The image of the hole in the rock where the grass has grown is evocative, as if time had passed in a moment but the secret of their love had remained intact and incorporated, as if In the mood for love were a tale of a glimpse of existence of two individuals who for a short period of time seek the innocence of love.

What makes the difference in In the mood for love is the style of the storytelling. Peculiar is the use of slow motion which highlights the thoughtful attitude of the protagonists and their alienation from others. The slow motion, accompanied by a sublime soundtrack, show us the beauty of the details, the two glances that meet, the slow smoke that rises and Chow who laughs with his friends but turns back to take a pensive look. These scenes are poetic passages that lead the viewer into a suspended dimension, in turn interrupted by “noisy” sequences of neighbors or friends talking.

In the mood for love is full of fades and fades to black that recreate an elegant trend made of subtractions, in which objects, expressions, smoke and spectacular interiors and furnishings remain alive. Christopher Doyle’s photography highlights the claustrophobic corridors and very narrow spaces, creating games of geometry and “framing in the frame”. The characters are always hidden between the door frames, between the vertical lines of the pathets and there is a constant presence of out-of-focus elements in the foreground that recreate a sense of entrapment. In the mood for love is a love enclosed within the walls of an apartment and among very elegant objects, which will in no way be able to express itself and come to the surface.

A key to the film is the color red, used in the same way as Kieslowski in Three Colors – Red Film. In fact, in every shot there is a shade of red, whether it is an object or a pattern of a dress, whether it is predominant or just a detail. The red of love grows as the film progresses, until it culminates in the middle of the film, when the two protagonists are increasingly attracted to each other. But then it goes out until it is visible only in some details, such as the hands of a clock or a colored relief of a facade.

In the mood for love lives on saturated shades masterfully combined with complementary colors, which recreate an elegant, melancholy and unrepeatable atmosphere.

The atmosphere weighs on the protagonists so much that they are isolated and estranged from the rest of the neighborhood. Their partners are never physically present, but only recalled with voiceovers. Often the two actors remain the only subject in the frame even though they are talking to other characters, eliminating the classic back-shot to focus only on the reactions of the protagonists.

In the mood for love still remains one of the key works of the new millennium, a source of inspiration for new directors and a starting point for many cinephiles. Something fascinating and unrepeatable after two decades.

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