Thinking back to My blueberry nights, Kar Wai Wong’s first movie shot in English. it seems that I was so mesmerized by the visual and olfactory style of this movie that I could not pay enough attention to the story itself. Having seen Won’gs ” Chung King Express” and “2046” I was used to the director’s signature style of frequent use of primary colors and building in neon lights into the misc-en-scene. What I haven’t noticed earlier is the obstacles in vision. There are lots of scenes viewed from outside via windows. Even when we are inside a room other, unfocused objects (lamps, walls, people…) often are in the foreground as the camera pans through them. I do not recall seeing this as a tool used often. I was tempted to assign deeper meaning (i.e. we go through life not being able to see the full picture), but then decided that I might be off and this style is simply the result of worldview, where things and people are crowded. It was interesting to see the contrast with a movie shot in and about the USA, where cramped situations are less prevalent than in Asia or Europe.
I mentioned olfactory style of the movie, despite not being actually smell the movie, or the places it depicted. But almost. It is a very sensual movie in this regard. Good portion of the movie is showing a small NYC bakery, where one could easily imagine the fragrances of cakes, breads, baked goods and even meat mixed. The first time the blueberry pie was shown in extreme close-up, as the ice-cream was melting on it, my wife cried, “hmmm, food porn.” I think that is a very appropriate term of the picture. It was definitely obscene.
My nose remembered the places the protagonist took jobs as she moved through the States: dinner, bar, casino. They all have their distinctive scent. If you’ve been to one of each you more or less know how all the others feel. You may even have your own association with them as well. I think Wong was counting on the associations that (American) viewers have with these places. The feelings and emotions these evoke in you probably influenced how and whether you liked the movie. For me dinners are cozy and friendly, bars are seedy and loud, while casinos are sad and flashy. Consequently they were in the movie as well.
I cannot not talk about the keys that the baker keeps in a huge jar from and for his customers. They are the symbols representing different ideas as the movie moves along
Early on it is about responsibility,
Jeremy: If I threw these keys away then those doors would be closed forever and that shouldn’t be up to me to decide, should it?
Later they are about missed opportunities,
Katya: Sometimes, even if you have the keys those doors still can’t be opened. Can they?
Jeremy: Even if the door is open, the person you’re looking for may not be there, Katya.
By the end of the movie all is left from the keys is the word “key” in Russian, on the door. By then the door (of love between the two main characters) is finally opened up.
Elizabeth, the protagonist was played by Norah Jones, a singer, musician; I personally did not care much for. But, her dreamy presence was adequate for the movie. Jude Law and Natalie Portman on the other hand were much stronger in their respective roles. Portman’s role as Leslie (a southern, swearing, card-playing, colorful clothes wearing, cynical con-woman) was particularly surprising, because it was so different from her usual roles. Here is a typical conversation from the well-written movie:
Leslie: Have you learned nothing from your time with me. You have to stop taking people at their words.
Elizabeth: Maybe you should start.
Leslie: You’re hopeless…
Elizabeth: You’re hopeless too!