My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar-wai, 2007)

01Sep10

Jude Law (Jeremy), Norah Jones (Elizabeth), David Strathaim (Arnie), Rachel Weisz (Sue Lynne), Natalie Portman (Leslie). Screenplay by Lawrence Block and Wong Kar-wai. Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Rating: 12. Running time: 95 minutes.

So here we have a Wong Kar-wai film that is neither set in Hong Kong nor whose characters are Chinese. That’s quite a difficult thing to do, isn’t it? I don’t mean for him to ship his style and stories across to America, keeping everything constant but the language and setting, though that’s obviously a mammoth task in itself. I mean, more importantly, that it seems equally difficult for viewers to let themselves be so uprooted and replaced in this much more well known world. Kar-wai’s films, for me, whilst always having been compelling, have also consistently felt a little far from home. To see his kind of relationship flourish in a New York café, then, as well as in Tennessee bars and diners and in Vegas casinos, and on top of this being between actors and actresses like Jude Law and Natalie Portman, is an act of surprising difficulty. I had to keep reminding myself that they are here under the same direction as, for instance, Tony Leung Chiu Wai was in 2046.

I think that it is this fact about My Blueberry Nights that explains the alienated responses that came flooding in from critics at the times of its release. Both visually and musically it is easily up to standard with the rest of Kar-wai’s impeccable resumé, but what seems out of place here is for the aphorisms of wisdom on life always scattered throughout his screenplays to now be muttered in English, rather than just read by us as subtitles. The ‘plot’ here – a young girl, upon splitting up with her lover, going travelling across the States picking up simple work wherever she can – is typically loose like all of his films. It just provides a platform upon which to observe various intriguing characters and their fleeting relationships with Elizabeth. The best of these comes at the start (and, circularly, at the end) before the journey even begins, as she uses a SoHo café and pie place as a haven after her breakup, staying after opening hours on bitter cold and dark Manhattan winter nights to confide in its owner and waiter, played by Jude Law. Maybe it’s just my love of New York, but these scenes are filmed so delicately and beautifully that, as always, Kar-wai makes them truly irresistible to the eyes and touchingly soothing to the ears.

My Blueberry Nights is far from his best film, but if you know his work well you’ll realise that’s a pretty pathetic criticism, if one at all. Through the course of his career he has made Hong Kong look permanently saturated in colour and beautiful in my eyes. Seize the opportunity here to see the West similarly; it’s probably the only chance we’ll get.

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