A salute to Cannes and romantic rapture with “In the Mood for Love”


Starring Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung and Rebecca Pan. Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. Streaming on The Criterion Channel. 99 minutes. PG

(4 stars out of 4)

The 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival was supposed to begin May 12. The coronavirus had other ideas. One of the few films announced for the fest was a celebratory replay of Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” which premiered at the fest in 2000. In honour of this great film, and what might have been at Cannes 2020, here is my original review:

In the rapturous valentine that is Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” intoxicating desire overwhelms base lust as the most powerful of romantic impulses. A man and a woman on the verge of infidelity keep finding ways to prolong the sweet torture of their unconsummated love.

Like the movie itself, their affair — if we can really call it that — builds slowly, catching them by surprise and leaving them giddy.

It’s a feeling shared by the audience as we watch their dance with voyeuristic fascination, our own senses reeling from thoughts of what could be, what should be. The Nat King Cole Spanish classic “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” (“Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”) is heard often on the soundtrack, underlining the sense of anticipation.

When I first saw “In the Mood for Love” at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival, the sensation inside Roy Thomson Hall was of hundreds of people simultaneously holding their breath.

Known for capturing elusive emotions, Wong establishes a more contemplative groove this time. He measures the course of love through the swish of silk against delicate legs, through the casting of glances fraught with meaning, through subtle shifts of colour and music, through an office clock that seems to tick in pace with heartbeats.

Rarely could denial be called sexy, or frustration be deemed sensual. But Wong and his perfectly cast actors make desire itself seem far more satisfying than yielding to lust, even if that desire ultimately leads to sadness.

“In the Mood for Love” demands repeat viewings, standing the test of time as a movie in which romance is truly felt in all of its wondrous and vexing ways.

You could spend one of them just marvelling at Maggie Cheung’s incredible dresses, watching how the colours affect the emotional hue of the moment. And each time you watch the film, you might come to a different conclusion about the “Will they or won’t they?” question.

Wong Kar-wai leaves the answer up to us.

(From “Movies I Can’t Live Without,” by Peter Howell.)

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© 2016 M.L. Bream