For "foreign" directors, America remains the land of dreams. Many have gone there to blemish their reputations. Only a few have managed to make a good film. Off the top of my head, I can't name a single one that succeeded in maintaining his unique identity. For many, their cultural setting proved too much of a hurdle to overcome. Next in line was Wong Kar Wai, for years Hong-Kong's only prolific arthouse director, a lonely soul in the regions of martial arts, action and comedy cinema.
The first signs of his new film were quite worrisome. His trusty DOP Christopher Doyle wasn't mentioned, half the cast of Closer was involved and the lead was reserved for a young singer with no prior acting experience. It seemed Kar Wai was about to face the same fate as many before him did.
I'm not the biggest Kar Wai fan, but between In The Mood For Love and 2046 he earned my trust, so I went ahead anyway. And what he accomplished with My Blueberry Nights is simply stunning. For some reason, he managed to keep his style intact and made a Kar Wai film set in America. As if it is the most natural thing in the world.
Khondji replaced Doyle as DOP, but you would hardly notice, unless someone told you. Visually, this film feels very much like his latest efforts, only with an American flair provided by the setting. His use of color, together with the shifts in focus, the twitchy slow-motions and the precise framing is something that has to be seen to be believed. It's easily one of the most stunning movies to have graced theater screens this year, oozing style and class from every particle of projected celluloid. Details like the way window inscriptions are used to add all sorts of colors to the frame are just amazing. America never looked this lush before.
Between the visuals and the typical jazzy soundtrack, Kar Wai's atmosphere remains completely intact. The shots of the metro are a nice reminder of 2046, the shots of nature in between rival those of Gerry. It's amazing how he was able to keep his signature, a sign of an incredibly talented filmmaker.
As for the actors, I'm really not the biggest fan of Jude Law, Weisz or Portman, but none of them seemed out of place and they never annoyed me like they did in other films. Still, I think that Kar Wai did most of the acting for them, translating emotion directly to the screen, using the actors merely as puppets to act out the story. Norah Jones looked remarkably at ease and never once revealed the fact it was a first-time job. No false notes there.
The story itself proved a nice hook for Kar Wai's atmosphere. The structure is quite fresh and the film blooms into one of the sweetest love stories of 2007. There's something here about life experience, choosing your path and waiting for the right time to grab your chances, but all of that can just as easily be left in the background as the film has plenty other, more powerful, feats to enjoy. In contrast to his earlier films, the film is a tad sweeter, reserving most of the drama for the supporting characters.
My Blueberry Nights turned out to be Kar Wai's ultimate proof of talent. He made a film in a totally different country, with different actors and in a completely different setting, without giving in one ounce of his signature style. This film is 200% Kar Wai and comes unmistakably from his hands, annoying actors were turned into lovable characters and his film proved once again that movies are an audiovisual experience and should be enjoyed as such.
True mastership, one blast of visual emotion bleeding from the screen. One of my favorite Kar-wai films and a remarkable experience.