For his first English-language film, Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai explores his favored themes of love and loss in the traditional format of a road movie. After spending five years on his last film, 2046, the director said he felt “like doing something completely different. I also wanted to make a film about distance and see how I would work in a new environment. It was a personal challenge and also an excuse to see the real America.” Wrapped in an evocative Ry Cooder soundtrack that hits all the right notes and emotions, the film meanders from New York to Tennessee and Nevada.
The America on view is visually stunning, with eye-watering landscapes, vistas, sunsets and sunrises. Albeit in a new setting, however, there are distinct echoes of Wong’s earlier work, especially In the Mood for Love, which played at Cannes seven years ago, in the way the auteur reflects on loneliness and romance and how, when it all goes wrong, life appears to come to a sudden and traumatic halt. The whole is suffused in a dreamlike atmosphere in which frequently it is difficult to tell whether it is day or night.
Singer Norah Jones makes an impressive acting debut as Elizabeth. Still in the throes of recovering from a five-year relationship, she turns up in a diner run by an Englishman (Jude Law in subdued but effectively playful mode). There, he serves her the blueberry pie that always seems to be leftover at the end of the evening.
To try to sort out her life and her feelings, Elizabeth takes to the open road and ends up in Memphis, where her job as an itinerant waitress brings her into contact with an aging cop (played by the consistently reliable David Strathairn) and his younger wife (Rachel Weisz), whose relationship also is in turmoil. Her next port of call is a Nevada casino, where she links up with Leslie (Natalie Portman), a feisty if fated gambler whose winning streak appears to have run out. The two of them take to the road together in a pairing that has distinct resonances of Thelma and Louise in the bonds of female friendship.
The journey comes full circle with Elizabeth appearing back at the diner, possibly ready to pick up the threads of a romance with the Law character that Wong suggested were in the air at the beginning.
With the clutch of strong performances, its stunning visual style and the accessibility of its English-language script, co-written by Lawrence Block, Wong should find a whole new set of admirers for his plaintive meditation—provided audiences still are in the mood for love.
Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman and Chan Marshall
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Screenwriters: Wong Kar Wai and Lawrence Block
Producer: Jacky Pang Yee Wah
Drama: Romantic drama
Rating: Not yet rated
Running time: 111 min.
Release date: February 13, 2008 ltd.
Reviewed: 2007 Festival de Cannes