Friday, March 13, 2009

My Blueberry Nights (2008)


The art of Wong Kar-Wai, both luminous and numinous, is dauntlessly irrepressible in its romanticism. Like a body of water with a deceptively smooth surface against which a brilliant sheen of light playfully dances—under which a hidden bubbling tumult secretly resides—Wong's pictures are spectacles of bleating, bellowing amour. It is within these excursions into the matters of the heart that Wong's characters caress one another. Wong's characters are all in essence serving prison terms, and the prison constructed for them is one of neon lights reflecting in damp night streets. Time itself, and memory—that most quintessential human tool, gift and burden, which haunts, spoils and entices—are elastically bent until the characters no longer seem capable of steering their own ship. The bedazzling visualizations Wong employs are incisive punctuation marks, such as the skip-frame slow-motion and fast-motion or freeze-frame, with which he chronicles the perturbation and despondency, passion and depression. The tools at Wong's disposal do more than communicate—which is naturally their chiefest raison d'etre—they implement wordless poeticism, both amplifying and moderating moments either too nimble or serene or agonizing to ever be forgotten no matter how his characters, imprisoned by love, try. His most favored tool may be the folding dissolves, which he lays atop one another like a stack of steaming pancakes. It may be said that Wong's most repeated punctuation mark is a visual realization of an ellipses. It is that ellipses that most distinguishes and beckons, and perhaps even frustrates those unacquainted or impatient with the director's marked, seemingly innate form of ever-burgeoning nascence of being. To label it an indulgence is a poor misreading; Wong's cinema glistens like that body of water, in which the characters both struggle and thrive. Mastery of the waves, the ebb and flow, may be temporary (perhaps truly temporal), but the thrill guarantees that the characters slowly unlearn their own histories, and resume their swimming.

My Blueberry Nights, the director's first feature film made in English, shot in America, has been assailed by Wong aficionados and novices, admirers and critics, alike. For a significant portion of the critical establishment, the film was a gangrenous revelation—a fat, easily slain cow of a film, which provided them with sufficient armaments to assault Wong's entire filmography. The lack of subtitles, it was said, pulled the veneer of artfulness away; Wong was the artistic emperor with no clothes, a visual fetishist, perhaps, whose pictures were repetitive, exhaustingly lonely affairs (how simultaneously apropos and lethally invalid a reception, considering that repetition, loneliness and affairs in no small part constitute much of Wong's cinema). To hear the words in English reduced their import, and all connotations and ramifications tied to them were consequently harmed. What the move to English may have demonstrated, however, was that dialogue—scripted by Wong, and in this instance co-written by Lawrence Block—is at best secondary to the optical carnival of sensuous visages that radiate and pulsate with so much electricity. Unfortunately, that My Blueberry Nights is a more minor work than all that which has come before in Wong's oeuvre only seemed to ensure the film's lackluster critical fate.

The uncomplicated story is different for Wong—it's as much an ode to Americana as, say, The Chungking Express celebrates Hong Kong—and probably compelled critics to suspect him of pandering to the American audience. After all, surely Wong must be a cynical exploiter of emotion. Merely glancing through his entire canon, however, Wong is in actuality the world's most vital romantic filmmaker. That the circumstances of My Blueberry Nights seem almost archaically symmetrical—the advertising and most apparently acclaimed and cherished shot of the film (above) speaks to the film's aesthetic and narrative symmetry, which could be mistakenly interpreted as being “too neat,” “too tidy.” Wong's films are riddled with melancholy and anguish, but the swimmers do fleetingly defeat the force of nature, for however long. As the tagline to The Chungking Express noted, “If my memory of her has an expiration date, let it be 10,000 years,” connecting pineapple cans with their dates of expiration to resilient love. That line could be appropriate for all Wong films (sans, perhaps, Happy Together, about a pair of homosexual Chinese living in South America). Like the hidden glass in As Tears Go By, Wong forms his romances around everyday objects. In My Blueberry Nights, he extrapolates deeper meaning out of food, and most directly blueberry pie. Like Cop 663 in The Chungking Express, the viewer is deprived of the scenes of heartbreak that have devastated Elizabeth (Norah Jones) as My Blueberry Nights launches its tale. (As in a number of Wong's memory-induced stories, Cop 223's story is told in part through dreamy flashback.) Elizabeth walks into a vacant diner late at night, and like other love-stricken men whose tales have been told by Wong, Jeremy (Jude Law) becomes quite fond of her almost immediately. Jeremy informs Elizabeth that whereas cheesecake and other desserts have been wholly consumed by closing time, there is always leftover blueberry pie. It is over this blueberry pie that Jeremy and Elizabeth meet-cute, she still stinging from her excruciating break-up, and he recognizing that without missing a proverbial beat.

My Blueberry Nights fittingly opens with languid, oneiric close-ups of delicious blueberry pie being topped with melting ice cream. The music and atmospheric winsomeness make the allusion to semen flowing through a woman's inner cavity while making the pictorial less obvious in its meaning than it logically should be. The viewer is looking at blueberry pie, with melting vanilla ice cream undulating through and about it, but it may just as well be the voluminous ultramarine body of water that opens Happy Together. The shots of the film are lightly embroidered together through the dissolves and faux slow-motion step-printing Wong utilizes in postproduction, taking the process to its limits with The Chungking Express. Limning the film's episodic structure—Elizabeth wanders about the United States from New York City to Memphis and finally to Las Vegas, encountering one triad or pairing or lone figure whose sad stories of regrettable loss does not so much teach as they do asomatously provide her with glimpses of an ache. That mutual heartache finds solace in alcohol (David Strathairn's crushed, nightly-drunken Memphis police officer Arnie Copeland), petty revenge (Rachel Weisz in a dramaturgical interpretation of Arnie's fed-up, unforgiving wife Sue Lynn) and the posturing of ensured command in the form of a daredevil card sharp named Leslie (Natalie Portman) seeking an escape from a place and person she is compelled to revisit. These disparate strangers-cum-doppelgangers are always found in a diner or smoke-filled bar at which Jones' Elizabeth works. The cumulative experience is a mildly emotionally distressing but finally soothingly salving road trip odyssey, after which Elizabeth has wholly convalesced from the hurt of her destroyed relationship.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji, whose affinity for long lenses with which he codifies and composes a vaporous, blurred aesthetic look under which the characters—and especially Jones' Elizabeth, who is featured in plentiful scrupulous facial close-ups—traverse, supplies Wong's film with an obscuring patina as though the viewer is watching the proceedings through a fogged-up window. It is truly as though My Blueberry Nights wishes to forget itself, or look away from its own reflection either out of embarrassment or emotional and psychological paroxysms that arise from confrontations with the unpleasant. (Think of the impetus behind the tracking shot hurtling away from Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle on the telephone in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, here made subtler, more continuous and dreamily celestial rather than nightmarish.) As with Wong's previous pictures, the value of and spasming from memory, through which images, random sights and people are glorified and ripped apart, glossed over and meticulously mentally reconstructed, is at My Blueberry Nights' spirited heart. Elizabeth is like Tony Leung's Chow in In the Mood for Love and 2046 in that she is largely a central unifying beam that connects the disparate, circling characters in her orbit, and unlike Chow in that she is more naïve, more femininely doting and perspicuously alluring in that she transmits a blankness, openness and infectiously spunky fearlessness that seems to be more of a verite capturing of Jones' very qualities than extensive acting. Leung's Chow was doomed to almost precisely know what he was doing and to whom he was doing it; Jones' Elizabeth is unburdened and almost solely receptive, presenting a fulcrum of a precociously innocent wisdom that occasionally comes with youth, distinguished by an emphasis on listening and short, well-meaning bursts of advice.

As per usual with Wong, the film's soundtrack is teeming with tristful, rueful songs such as Cat Power's “Living Proof,” Otis Redding's “Try a Little Tenderness” and the Cassandra Williams cover of Neil Young's “Harvest Moon.” The songs in Wong's films seem to never merely begin or conclude, but rather pick up in almost veritable midstream as music so often does in one's memory. Composer Ry Cooder lays and folds his score and songs atop the soundtrack to which Jones herself contributed with “The Story” in a manner that is seamless—and musically quite similar to Wong's translucent pile of overlapping dissolves. Wong's musical choices are always magnificently accomplished, evoking in the viewer and listener a universalism of sentiment that risks a less challenging mawkishness. That bravery is both a particular quality of Wong's from his earliest Hong Kong days to My Blueberry Nights, and it routinely masks a deeper sociopolitical context, whether it be the anticipated move for Hong Kong to China from Great Britain in The Chungking Express (as Cop 663 fishes for coins to feed the jukebox, remaining perfectly still listening to the music as the rest of the world appears to fly all about him) or Sino-Japanese relations distilled into one ill-fated romance in 2046. My Blueberry Nights is Wong's attempt to explore America, and in so doing he forms compelling links between western and eastern values, customs, mores and personalities. It is not surprising that perhaps the least successful characterization and performance is Weisz's, which at its most histrionic would comfortably remain within Wong's Hong Kong films as played by a beautiful Chinese actress like Maggie Cheung. The most lasting connection between Wong's previous pictures and My Blueberry Nights, however, is in its lushly empyreal keynote image, so fantastically mesmeric, which attains a kind of unmistakable transcendence that Wong brings to his art. Like the passionate kissing between Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung in As Tears Go By set against “Take My Breath Away” and the brilliant blinding white fadeout that transports the two to an entirely different plane—making their stay in Wong's stylized prison of love worth it all—Wong's final shot in My Blueberry Nights unlocks that prison cell, leaving it up to the receiver of the sights and sounds to wonder just how free these two lovelorn people truly are.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have to disagree with you but i found Rachel Weisz's performance to be probably the only good thing in this film. Her performance was raw,energetic and heartbreaking and Her scenes with the equally wonderful David Strathairn was what this film should have been about but unfortunately that's not the case. The rest of the film pales in comparison to what Weisz and Strathairn were able to accomplish with their small roles and feels more like fluff.

Anonymous said...

And I gotta disagree with the previous comment. Rachel Weisz's performance was laughably, embarrassingly over-the-top awful. Her monologue on the sidewalk was cringe-inducing for me. I like the film overall for its lovely atmospheric romanticism, but the Weisz episode was ... ugh.

Rick Olson said...

Alexander, your post mirrored the lushness of the film itself. I liked My Blueberry Nights a lot. I think there's a lot of cinephiles that when presented with a film that approaches pure cinema, pure imagery like Nights, they don't get it. Of course, it wasn't a perfect film (I thought Jones, in the end, was just a little too passive a vessel), but what is?

I wrote about it over at my place if you're interested.

Alexander Coleman said...

Anonymous #1, I didn't mean to ridicule Weisz's performance as has been done many other reviewers. I do think it was ultimately the least successful effort, not because it was not emotional (I found her quite moving), but I also think she felt like the most obvious leftover from Wong's canon. I actually admire Weisz, as it seemed to me she was attempting to channel Maggie Cheung or perhaps Gong Li with her performance. As such, it wasn't a complete failure, but neither was it a total success, for me, in any case. Thank you very much for the comment.

Anonymous #2, well, I understand your points. As I say in the review, I found her to be the least natural, or at ease, performer in the picture, but I didn't think she was laughably awful. I know many agree with you, however, about her and the especially the monologue on the sidewalk being "cringe-inducing." I can't go nearly that far--it may not work, but there is something about it that I cannot dismiss. Alternately, it could be said that the Natalie Portman section, especially as it relates to her relationship with her father, felt more familiar.

As you can see, I have conflicting thoughts about this issue. Even the Jude Law part has its unquestionable (to me) charms and (quite) slight, nagging problems (Law's a fine actor, and I believed his connection with Jones, which is the paramount concern, but he could have used a bit more fleshing out).

Rick, thank you so very much for the kind words. Yes, I believe you're right about many cinephiles. Wong is probably the acid test in this regard--his "stories" can be so easily assailed for somehow being "trite" (of course, I thoroughly disagree), so ironically he's possibly most vulnerable to at least some cinephiles who consider themselves too intelligent or artfully restrained in allowing imagery to provoke or move them. I'd say, cinema is an image-based art form, and I'm afraid those who are left unmoved by visually literate filmmaking ought to read books (which I love doing, too).

Like the other issues brought up by the two aforementioned commenters, I understand the criticism of Jones as too passive a vessel. I think this is the part of the film on which I have most changed my mind. The more I ruminate about the film, the more right she seems for this. I'd like to see Jones in a more demanding role sometime. Wong was definitely going for a special yet familiar identity for his protagonist, and on that score I think he succeeded quite well. Jones is in a way the perfect "girl," in that she tantalizes without meaning to, while possessing a believability that is strangely refreshing all the same.

I'll be sure to look at your piece when I get a chance, Rick. And thank you again for the very kind words.

Harold said...

Jesus. Dude, get paid to write.

Alexander Coleman said...

I'll take your statement as a compliment, Harold. Thanks.

Sam Juliano said...

"My Blueberry Nights fittingly opens with languid, oneiric close-ups of delicious blueberry pie being topped with melting ice cream. The music and atmospheric winsomeness make the allusion to semen flowing through a woman's inner cavity while making the pictorial less obvious in its meaning than it logically should be. The viewer is looking at blueberry pie, with melting vanilla ice cream undulating through and about it, but it may just as well be the voluminous ultramarine body of water that opens Happy Together."

"My Blueberry Nights is Wong's attempt to explore America, and in so doing he forms compelling links between western and eastern values, customs, mores and personalities."

"Wong's final shot in My Blueberry Nights unlocks that prison cell, leaving it up to the receiver of the sights and sounds to wonder just how free these two lovelorn people truly are."


These are just a few of the exemplary passages in this typically exhaustive treatment of one of last year's best films, a movie that is so utterly and gleefully 'cinematic' that some were bewildered. It's an elegiac roadtrip, a journey of discovery, a fleeting cornucopia of dazzling images, an examination of people who are "thriving and surviving" as you aptly assert, and a trap for those who would throw up their hands and cry: "self-indulgence!"

As you say many of the images imply "wordless poeticism" and the interpretation often makes one think of "despondency, passion and depression." And I agree completely with THIS stylistic observation:

"His most favored tool may be the folding dissolves, which he lays atop one another like a stack of steaming pancakes."

Perhaps the most important and accurate point you make this this entire stupendous review is the one where you rightly dub Kar-Wei as the "world's most vital Romantic filmmaker."

How right you are, and MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS takes itself besides films like HAPPY TOGETHER in solidifying that sentiment in a film that walks down a different path, but still evokes this great contemporary director's brilliant mode of filmic expression.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much Sam for the remarkably exhaustive comment yourself! It's always an honor to have one's words quoted by you, and I agree with your points about the film--like Wong's others--being an ethereal collage of lingering images which is quintessentially cinematic. Thank you also for the very kind words, as always, and I agree that, flaws, shortcomings and problems aside, this is one of the best films of the last year. It is, dare I say, a case where even the flaws somehow contribute to the film's efficacy. Wong is an enrapturing visual master and I am continually amazed by his genius as I give his pictures repeated viewings.

DarkCity said...

Hi! Alexander, Rick and Sam,
Here goes one for the record book(s)...I haven't had the opportunity to watch
the 2008 film "My Blueberry Nights yet, but least at I own all of singer Norah Jones' cds!...
Ahh!..."Close, but no "prize!"
right!

Take care!
Dcd ;-D

DarkCity said...

Hi! Alexander,
Oops! What I meant to say as usual...
...,but at least I own all of singer Norah Jones' cds!...
Ahh!..."Close, but no "prize!"
right!


Btw, Alexander, I just send you another email...as usual!

Take care!
Dcd ;-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, owning all of Jones' CDs is certainly a welcome and worthwhile purchase (or set of purchases), Dark City Dame! I own the DVD of her performance at Austin City Limits in 2007. Her music (and singing) is quite soothing.

I hope you see this film soon! Have you seen any Wong pictures? You should like his films, especially a neo-noir like Fallen Angels. :)

DarkCity said...

Hi! Alexander,
Alexander said, "I hope you see this film soon! Have you seen any Wong pictures? You should like his films, especially a neo-noir like Fallen Angels."

Alexander, I have never watched any Asian films before...No,
French cinema, Italian, Swedish and British cinema...Yes, but I may seek this title out since you mentioned the words neo-noir.

Take care!
Dcd ;-D

DarkCity said...

Alexander,
I forgot...that I have also watched "Germanic-speaking" or German cinema too!...my 2 latest N.J. purchases.. Norah Jones Feels like home (Deluxe Edition) and one of her first CD being featured with the Peter Malick Group. I think her singing "voice" is beautiful!... even when she sing "live" or in concert.

Take care!
Dcd ;-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Wow, Dark City Dame, you certainly have quite a future ahead of you with so many great films to be seen! :-)

Now you have me intrigued. Which German film(s) have you seen?

You're right, Norah Jones has a beautiful singing voice. I need to seek out more of her work!

Moses Hernandez said...

I had some pretty big problems with the movie when I first saw it almost a year ago but agree with you that it has many things to offer anyway. I need to see it again, that's for sure. Your words really spoke to me here. Beautiful stuff.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Moses. I hope you like it more with a second viewing. I certainly did. It helps if you do not expect something as intricate as 2046 or even as precise as that and many other feature and short films Wong has made. This is, even more than his previous works, ironically, a mood piece. Coupled with the Americana of an ambling road trip, it becomes more attractive when properly viewed as what it actually is.

DarkCity said...

Guten Tag! Alexander,
I must admit that I haven't watched many German films, but the ones that I have watched are...Fritz Lang's Metropolis, M, and The Blue Angel.

Movies based on Nazism...Conspiracy,
The Goebbels Experiment and The Gleiwitz Case.

I also have several films that I have purchased, but haven't open yet, such as... The German Expressionist boxset Collection, The Last Laugh, Metropolis and a film that Rick,(From over there at the other CCC(Coosa Creek Cinema) mentioned Vampyr.

Bonjeur! Alexander,
I also have an unopen copy of Ascenseur Pour l'Échafaud (Elevator To The Scaffold)that I'am no longer interested in owning if you like I will send it to you, that is if you don't own a copy of this film already.

Merci Beaucoup!
DeeDee :-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Wow, Dark City Dame, those are some mighty fine German films you have seen. Terrific! Those Lang masterpieces are quintessential cinema. I adore German Expressionism and hope to write more about it here (among so many other things!) in the future, especially after I've caught up with all of the recent releases I have to move through.

Is that otherwise known as Elevator to the Gallows, the Louis Malle picture? (I'm thinking it must be.) If so, you should not lose interest in that one, Dark City Dame; you should like that one, actually. Thank you for the extremely kind thought, however! :-)

Anonymous said...

This movie put me to sleep. Great review. Maybe I should see it again.

Alexander Coleman said...

Guten Tag to you as well, haha.

tim watts said...

Whoa I gotta see this flick. Damn, very impressive piece here, AC.

Alexander Coleman said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry to hear the film "put [you] to sleep"; perhaps you should see it again, however, and see if it plays better. Or maybe you were just quite tired at that time. Thanks for the kind words.

Tim, thank you very much for the kind words. Yes, see My Blueberry Nights, by all you means.

tim watts said...

By all you means?

Alexander Coleman said...

By all means. Grr, you know what I meant.

DarkCity said...

Bonjeur! Alexander,
Alexander said,"Is that otherwise known as Elevator to the Gallows, the Louis Malle picture?...."

Ahh! Yes, Alexander, below is the French and English...title(s) of the film.

Ascenseur à la potence
(Elevator to the Gallows)

Merci!
DeeDee :-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Ah, I thought it had to be that film. Yes, you should see it. I am interested in seeing what you thinkk of it, actually. :-)

Merci!

frank said...

Ugh, I hated this movie. BUT. I like how you defend it and I cant argue with you that WKW is a interesting director. But Ive only seen 3 of his movies.

Alexander Coleman said...

I'm sorry to hear that you hated this, Frank. Perhaps (and I don't mean to come off as a cinematic tutor or anything) with greater exposure to Wong's films you may like this more.

This film was between a rock and a hard place, to use that most tired cliche. For Wong fans, it seemed a step backwards at first glance; for those who did not know what to expect from Wong, they found it exasperating in its lack of conventional cohesiveness.

Which three films of his have you seen?

frank said...

Good thoughts about that Alexander. Never thought about it like that.

Ive seen THE CHUNGKING EXPRESS, FALLEN ANGELS and HAPPY TOGETHER. I like the first one alot but FALLEN ANGELS made no sense and HAPPY TOGETHER was boring.

Alexander Coleman said...

Ah, so you've seen four in total, counting My Blueberry Nights. The Chungking Express remains a major favorite. I love the story of how it came about, as Wong was weary from working on Ashes of Time and, reportedly, wrote it out in a diner very quickly. He made the film as something of a personal, presumably minor knock-off while cleansing his palette from the headache that Ashes of Time had become for him. Ironically, The Chungking Express is frequently pointed to as many people's favorite Wong film, or their entry point for him.

Happy Together and Fallen Angels are challening but I find them both rewarding as well. Fallen Angels has a cubism at its center, in its shifting of perspective, that I find intoxicating, and Fallen Angels was--at that time--I believe Wong's most indelible tale in terms of characterization and tonal consistency. Sorry to hear that you didn't care for them as much.

sartre said...

Nice to read your review Alexander.

I too agree that the director is interesting. I loved In the Mood for Love. But sadly I found MBN's laughably melodramatic and overwrought, and the visuals and pacing self-consciously arty and devoid of meaning or interest. I guess with this kind of artistic sensibility and ambition one is likely to polarize the audience depending on whether the content is personally evocative or not.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Sartre.

I see what you're saying, though I disagree with the film being laughably melodramatic. Or, perhaps, this is a result of the language issue about which I wrote in the review. Looking at many Wong films, it would be provocative and interesting to hear the words in English rather than reading them on the screen. (Which tends to create a greater emotional distance.)

In the Mood for Love is frequently cited as Wong's greatest. As is the case with many films typically considered the best of a certain director's output, I think that film is a beneficiary of a tonal consistency that is actually (I would argue) rather rare for Wong.

Which is not to say I disagree with your point; certainly, if I were to do so, I wouldn't on such grounds. But I do find it an interesting widespread phenomenon which makes perfect, logical sense.

By contrast, My Blueberry Nights--thematically more modest, with an air of a filmmaker almost whispering to the audience that it's a minor film--seems to stick out more poorly due to the arty visuals and pacing. (Evidently, the film was twenty minutes or more longer when originally screened at Cannes. The truncating seemed to help the pacing in my opinion, though I'd be interested in seeing the original cut one day.)

As to your last point, I must say, as proven by the spirited debates and arguments this film has sparked, you're definitely on-target, Sartre. It's a polarizing film, and I think it's fair that it was attacked and loved, though the herd mentality among many critics--in this case towards the negative--disappoints me some.

As always, thank you for the feedback and thoughts. Did you find the Weisz portion especially flawed? If so, I certainly see what you're saying (for reasons previously written in the review and comments section, and otherwise). Portman and her section, however, felt different for Wong, although the actual denouement feels slight--though, as is the case with most of the film, I tend to think that is intentionally so.

Sergei Smirnov said...

I passed on this film but after reading your persuasive and intellectually stimulating review, I will rent this at first opportunity, Alexander. Your passion for film is palpable, sir.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much for the kind words, Sergei. I'd love to hear what you think of this film.

Sergei Smirnov said...

I'll be sure to see it very soon. I promise to come back here and tell you what I thought. I'll keep your stellar review in mind.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Sergei. Take your time. Or don't. I hope you like it, because, ultimately, I hope everyone likes everything. Or at least everything I like.

BobbiT said...

I love WKW but MBN was awful. Norah Jones needs to stick to singing. She kills this movie.

Alexander Coleman said...

Sorry you feel that way, BobbiT. It's not a great performance but I think it ultimately works... maybe "works" isn't the right word at all, actually. To paraphrase my own review, I think Wong used her as--to borrow the term from Rick--a vessel, and captured her own essence. In a way, it didn't feel like she was acting, so much as simply drifting along the lonely, gorgeous nightscape.

Anonymous said...

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS will be remembered 40 years from now while overrated crap like BENJAMIN BUTTON and FROST NIXON is totally forgotten.

Best.Review.Ever.

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, I tend to not make statements quite like that, Anonymous. Although I do think the polarization My Blueberry Nights has inspired is evidence that, for all of its unquestionable minor qualities, it is an artistically important film and will probably see its rankings wax the further we move from its Cannes showing as well as its release.

One thing is for sure... My Blueberry Nights will be argued about for a long, long time and Hugh Jackman will still have not rented The Reader.

ari zidoffian said...

by the choices we make we define ourselves

sartre said...

I liked Norah for the first half or so of the film when she was required to do little more than look wistful and wane. Her limitations became distracting once paired with Portman and she was required to display a broader range.

Yes, the segment that felt overly melodramatic, schematic, cliched, and lacking in any psychological nuance (and I did laugh out loud at how badly I found it so) was the one involving Wiesz and Strathairn - two actors I greatly admire for their talent. The failure to me was down to the script and the actors being pushed in a melodramatic direction by the director. Sometimes one can use cliches and caricatures to illuminate archetypes in interesting ways - from my perspective this was not the case here.

It's rare for me to dislike a film this much. I treat the fact as welcome because the things that evoke our strongest reactions in art - both positive and negative - stimulate the richest reflection and often tell us the most about tastes and ourselves.

mc said...

I found this film very moving, very touching. Your review is brilliant and demonstrates exactly why I found it so lovely. Beautiful writing, Alexander Coleman.

Alexander Coleman said...

True, ari.

Sartre, well, thank you for the elaboration of your earlier point, and also for recognizing the very issue which many in the same shoes would not--which is that your highly negative response may speak to the artistic risk-taking and fearlessness. I'm not contending that this is the case, but it is an interesting matter to consider, especially when a filmmaker as eclectic and sagacious as Wong is pulling the strings.

Sadly, I must agree with you about Norah Jones; when pitted against (and with) Portman, the discrepancy in acting talent, screen presence and, in this context, emotional wavelengths did become distracting. It wasn't enough to harm things too much--for me--as fortunately her Elizabeth (actually, she goes by "Beth" at this point in the film) was never called upon to even try to match Portman's Leslie, so much as merely react... Which, again, was occasionally distracting in its tonal bluntness...

The Weisz-Strathairn dynamic arguably suffers from the foreign director-comes-to-America syndrome (hey, you should know something about this, Sartre, you Kiwi you), which here is exacerbated by the insistence of diving into seeming "southern archetypes," quite broadly mounted.

Nonetheless, where the film lacks in story originality, it makes up for in style. It may be said to be quite a style-over-substance film, which can turn many people off. Though here I see all of your arguments against the film in very different areas.

Thank you again for continuing your thoughts on this. Very fascinating!

mc, thank you for the very kind comment. I'm glad to hear you were won over by My Blueberry Nights' more delicate, symphonious attributes.

Doyle said...

bruno and me just just loves it!

Alexander Coleman said...

Glad to hear that, Doyle.

Daniel Getahun said...

I can't believe you hadn't reviewed this yet. I swore you'd tackled it way back when. But of course since you didn't have a blog this time last year, that would make no sense. And by the reaction here you can see that that was a tragedy! But better late than never. In my case I hope that's the same with WKW's films! This is the first and only I've seen, but 2046, In the Mood for Love and Chunking Express have been swarming around me in recent months. I hope one stings me soon.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Daniel! Yes, having not started my blog up until May, I missed most of the My Blueberry Nights controversy last spring (though it did go on a while anyway). In the end, I decided to see it again (which I did last month) and review it, as I have.

Yes, I'm impressed by the way in which this film has created compelling arguments and debates, and I'm most pleased to see such a robust thread here! I've greatly enjoyed it.

I can't wait to hear what you think when you're stung by another one of Wong's films, Daniel. As always, thank you for the spirited, kind and insightful comment, my friend.

Samantha said...

I love, love, love this movie. So romantic. And I have to say I love, love, love your extremely beautiful and lush and brilliant essay, Mr. Coleman. You've got me wanting to see it again, like, right now.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, Samanta. I'm a little touched by your very enthusiastic and effusive comment. Good to hear from you.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I watched this over the weekend after a longish day at work and enjoyed it; I found it to not be Wong Kar-Wai's worst work, but probably his least great. Also consider that all of his previous works rank as some of my favourites, with 2046, In The Mood For Love and Days of Being Wild slipping ever so slightly above the rest of the pack.

I found Weisz to be good, but not great; and I loved Natalie Portman in this. It's a different performance from her, I felt it was more open and perhaps even more sly than she usually is. (Not to say anything against Portman, who I find delightful even in her misfires.) Her character struck me as a polar opposite to Gong Li's Su Li-Zhen in 2046, which I liked because I enjoy that performance as well.

I really liked your review, it helped me appreciate the film and it's successes more, and I really don't see why it had so many detractors.

And really, I wish life had the same lighting as a Wong Kar-Wai picture.

Alexander Coleman said...

Wow, thank you for that fantastic comment, Brooke. I completely agree with your statement here--"I found it to not be Wong Kar-Wai's worst work, but probably his least great." I think that approximately nails my own thoughts on this film as well, Brooke.

Excellent point about the connection to the Gong Li character of 2046 and Natalie Portman in My Blueberry Nights. Gong Li has a greater screen presence in the former film, though, than Portman--who is portrayed as a little bit weaker (the character, that is). I agree that Portman is usually solid even in her weaker efforts (the Star Wars prequels but that test to the most extreme degree, though).

Finally, I concur with you: I wish life looked like one of Wong's pictures. Sometimes it does, but one of the things about Wong I love is how he takes that sense of fleeting, of the ephemeral, and expands on it with great visual prowess and bravura.

Thank you again, Brooke, and I'm especially happy to hear from you for the first time with kind and appreciate words for the review. I'm very pleased to read you say that it helped you consider the picture. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wong Kar Wai is cool with me jut cuz he makes pretty looking movies with pretty looking chicks.

I love this essay. Made me think about Wong in a different way. Great job!

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Anonymous. Much appreciated.

There are many reasons to like Wong Kar Wai!

Dr. Death said...

This movie bored me to tears. Norah Jones can't act. Wong Kar Wai is overrated.

BUT your piece was great. Extremely descriptive. Kudos to you, Mr. Alexander Coleman.

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, I agree with the second part of your comment, Dr. Death. :-)

Thank you for the kind words... I'm sorry to hear you weren't won over by the film. However, I imagine not too many people named Dr. Death would find this to be among their favorites.

darkcitydame4e.com said...

Alexander said,"I missed most of the My Blueberry Nights controversy last spring (though it did go on a while anyway)"
Hi! Alexander,
If I maybe so "bold" to ask what was the controversy surrounding the film My Blueberry Nights
Did it have anything to do with actress Norah Jones "lack of acting experience" or is it wayyyy to complicated to discuss on your blog?

Dcd ;-)

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, Dark City Dame, Norah Jones' lack of acting credentials and/or experience certainly had something to do with it, as many criticized her starring performance, which was viewed as being deleterious to the film.

Beyond that, however, the film was largely dismissed by many American critics, receiving a poor overall rating at websites such as Rotten Tomatoes and Meta-Critic.

The film divided many "cinephiles," as they typically like to call themselves (sounds like an alien race on the old Outer Limits TV show to me) along positive/negative responses to it.

As you can see by this thread, however, the controversy has (thankfully) not truly subsided. :-)

Thank you for the question!

darkcitydame4e.com said...

Oops! Typo/correction...I meant to say, Bonjour! Alexander,(Because there is no such word as "Bonjeur!"in the French language.)
Alexander, I also have an unopen copy of Ascenseur Pour l'Échafaud(Elevator To The Scaffold)....

In the statement above I didn't "greet" you!...because the word Bonjeur don't exist. I bet that you are really happy that I cleared that up!...I'am being sarcastic, but of course!

Dcd ;-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Oh, well, thank you for greeting me now, in any case, Dark City Dame. :-)

You should see that Louis Malle film. You ought to like fairly well.