Wong Kar-wai’s “My Blueberry Nights” (2007)

Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights is a film with incredible warmth and respect for what it means to love and what it means to live. Kar-wai has proven many times before that he is one of the best filmmakers working today, throwing out an assortment of genres and themes that all have an auteur brand unlike others out there. With films like In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express, we have seen what the guy is capable of. He’s a natural born romantic, and his films all have a poetic grace in their romanticisms.

My Blueberry Nights is Kar-wai’s first English-language picture, and it’s a film that peers at America through the lens of Kar-wai’s wonderful Asian aesthetic. From the director’s viewpoint on the country, the film manages to capture an incredibly unique mood – one that blends together Kar-wai’s staple sensibility alongside American stereotypes and caricatures. It’s something to marvel when a trashy Southern party woman (Rachel Weisz) dresses in a fire-red dress with a pair of sunglasses that recalls the ones that are so iconic about Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, and spews on the screen in a thick Southern accent that verges on camp. But throughout all of this, Kar-wai still manages to mix the over-the-top with his sensitivity, thus giving My Blueberry Nights a highly original concoction of realism and fantasy, granting the old-fashioned and familiar story into something fresh and surreal.

The love story in this film isn’t nowhere near being a groundbreaking piece of narrative. It’s the simple story of a woman (Norah Jones) who finds herself absent of love in her life and finds herself going on a life-changing odyssey outside of her New York City home where she meets an assortment of people (David Strathairn, Weisz, Natalie Portman) that remind her that she might have left the person she loves (Jude Law) back home. What makes the story so rich and wonderful is the way in which Kar-wai tells it. Not just through that unique mood he invokes, but from the way he tells it in a highly-stylized yet completely restrained way.

Kar-wai splashes My Blueberry Nights in eye-popping color, moving the camera constantly in swift glides, occasionally peering through windows into the action. Other of the director’s trademarks are here as well… from the slow motion to the abrupt and unpredictable editing. But somehow, while all this style is here, the film still handles its substance with a gentle hand, never once throwing it into pretension. This is something Kar-wai is totally a master of (I’m tempted to call him the pinnacle director for cinematic love stories), but the minimalist nature of this film helps make it the one of his that I most closely respond to.

I’ve always liked this film, ever since first seeing it upon its DVD release, but it wasn’t until time has passed and I’ve had time to linger on it and rewatch it that I realized how much I really love it. It might have something to do with how I had come to relate so keenly with the Norah Jones character. Thanks to Jones’ down-to-earth naturalism and subdued control, she helps deliver My Blueberry Nights a larger step toward what it is – a story asking us to relate. From her first scene filled with anger, to her last filled with hope, she makes up a lot of the wonderful spirit that the film possesses. Credit should also be thrown at her for, while staying the film’s only lead character, she never once hogs the show, allowing Kar-wai’s fable be brought to life the way it should. Jones is the lead, but she supports the supporting cast throughout, deftly showing us how the actions of the smaller characters come to shape where she arrives in the film’s final scene.

If My Blueberry Nights gets bonus points for anything, it’s the fact that Kar-wai tells a double-sided love story. One that is the classic “home is where the heart is” and one that reminds us that we should also love ourselves and the short life we are living. Kar-wai makes point on this by telling his story in such an episodic manner, provoking the viewer to feel just as much whiplash as Jones’ character in this personal journey of hers. The film is told with title cards reminding us how many days it has been since Jones first met Law, constantly reminding us about time and its importance. In the swift 95 minutes this film lasts, we are flashed selected moments from a period of 300-plus days so that, in the film’s final beautiful breath at the end, we are capable of feeling just like the Jones character even more. Finding the calm, sweet beauty in a piece of blueberry pie with ice cream and the man who serves it to her.

Which brings me to want to talk about Jude Law in this film. He has proven during his career that he is a dedicated performer willing to dive into characters both charming and terrifying (and sometimes even both) with complete ease. Alongside his terrific supporting turns in The Talented Mr. Ripley and A.I., this is up there as one of Law’s best. There’s a twinkle in his eye, a caring touch with his hand, and a certain fire that bursts to life occasionally. He makes it understandable why his character makes Jones feel sad and why he makes her feel even more lonely. And on top of that, he even further helps us understand why she falls in love with him. He never comes off as fake, making the character so tender that kissing a sleeping Jones just doesn’t really rub us the wrong way.

Kar-wai’s decision to only have Jones and Law share scenes together at the beginning and at the end of the film is a wonderful touch to the way he tells his story. Jones’ narration (in the form of postcard letters she writes to Law) is the only means of connection, as Law himself can’t seem to find a way of contacting her. It’s a reverse effect to how Law’s character was before. He tells Jones earlier in the film, during their first days together, that he keeps snippets from his surveillance videos for his entertainment. It’s his personal way of connecting with those around him, keeping track of moments he has missed, on a closer level than when they were actually being served in his diner. This might be why Law falls in love with Jones so feverishly. She’s never really there, but she is on those surveillance tapes, and as he tells her upon her return at the end of the film, he’s played them so much they no longer work.

Kar-wai’s bittersweet handling of this development enriches that side of the story, helping us connect pieces with other moments outside of the diner and outside of New York City. Jones shows up in the south and finds herself working double jobs (to keep her from being bored and thinking of her ex-boyfriend) at a diner during the day and at a bar during the night. It is here that she meets an alcoholic police officer (David Strathairn) who has, not quite unlike Jones’ character at the moment, found himself robbed of his love. That particular love of his happens to be his wife (Rachel Weisz) who has separated from her husband in order to suit her sexually adventurous needs. This subplot is wonderfully constructed, Kar-wai enhancing its beauty with his visual flourishes while the events lead toward a Sirkian, however very moving, finish. A finish that ultimately leads Jones to the west, working as a hostess in a casino, and finding herself in a temporary friendship with a mysterious and neurotic Southern belle (a hilarious Natalie Portman) with a penchant for pathologically lying. This subplot, like the previous, also ends in a death, but the overall moral is that of existentiality being lost rather than love fading away.

A love story about life, and the life story of someone overlooking love. It’s amazing how tacky that message sounds when written on paper, but how alive and somber it plays during My Blueberry Nights. Through the actors, both Jones and her support, and through Kar-wai’s intensely special direction, garnering a response to the film’s message becomes rather easy, even when it never feels like its really being preached. It blossoms all the way up to that final scene, the one I keep coming back to because the entire film is meant to come up to this point. The kiss. The cuts to the blueberry pie with ice cream. Love found. Life accepted.

It’s taken a couple years to really grasp onto how special the film really is, but I finally have and I’ve found myself embracing it. Maybe I grew into finally relating to the Jones character, walking each step in the film with her as opposed to just observing from a distance (of which I do with most films I watch, assumedly). Kar-wai’s keen understanding of love, and of life, helps develop the film into truly potent territory. My Blueberry Nights is a near-perfect masterpiece. One of, if not the, defining romance films of the aughts.

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~ by jerkwoddjh on April 26, 2011.

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