Wednesday, May 16 .... later
My Blueberry Nights
Well, we laboured into the Salle Debussy -- jammed for the 10 am screening so tightly that some of us blue passes who showed up half an hour early wound up way off to the side, peering at Wong Kar Wai's shallowfield compositions as they trailed off into the distance. Some of us.
Moderate glamour for an opening night film -- Norah Jones in her film debut, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn -- but a very odd structure, even by Wong Kar-Wai's undeniably eccentric standards.
At the start of the film -- I missed a couple of minutes trying to find a seat in the dark without either trampling a stranger or pitching headlong down the stairs -- Norah Jones, freshly broken up with her boyfriend, shows up at Jude Law's bistro and wants someone to talk to, and if that someone looks like Jude Law, well, so much the better.
She eats a lot of blueberry pie a la mode, and this is how we know the film is a fantasy, because she never worries about all those carbs.
Then she goes off on a journey of self-discovery into America. The director said in one of his pre-Fest interviews that he wanted to discover the "real" America, which is horseshit, no matter which director says it.
European and Asian directors who go off to discover America invariably find the America that reinforces their own fantasies and prejudices about America. Here, she discovers David Strathairn drinking himself insensate in the Memphis bar where she finds work slinging drinks, and then she meets Natalie Portman's poker shark in a Nevada casino that's not in Las Vegas. (It seems to be Reno, but it's never explicitly stated, and the hotel they shot in is actually physically in Las Vegas, though they're saying it's not. However... Magic of the movies.)
The odd thing about her voyage of discovery is that nothing actually happens to her. Things happen to people around her, sometimes very bad things, but nothing happens to her, except that she realizes that she'd really like to go back to New York and fuck Jude Law. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but she could’ve figured that out in New York, I’m thinking.
We occasionally cut back to Jude Law at his restaurant, mooning over Norah Jones and wondering where she's gone. This is the other way we know the film is a fantasy, because guys who look like Jude Law aren't spending lonely nights mooning over lost loves. If we can believe the tabs, Jude Law doesn't even spend time mooning over his current love.
A European colleague called My Blueberry Nights "The stupidest movie ever". Well, that's not fair. She's obviously never seen Larry The Cable Guy -- Health Inspector, or the oeuvre of Rob Schneider. It's not stupider than The Hot Chick.
The passive protagonist is at best problematic. After all, this isn't one of those films like In The Mood For Love, which was actually a movie about people not fucking and the tension created thereby. It also had, in Maggie Cheung, a great central starring performance. Norah Jones is entirely adequate. The good performances here are Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman, though Portman is not at the top of her form.
The problem is a kind of cultural tone-deafness. One often doesn't mind when a foreign filmmaker doesn't quite "get" the milieu, if they've got something to say about the milieu. Ivan Passer and Milos Forman's American movies always seem vaguely European, but they're interesting regardless. Wong Kar Wai doesn't seem to have anything to say about America or Americans.
It's Wong stripped of his thematic core and reduced to dealing in directorial gesture -- the shallow visual frames where only one thing is in focus at any given moment, the distorting whip pans, the insistence on shooting almost every shot through something -- blinds, hanging beads, dirty glass, glass with writing on it. My principal thought coming out of My Blueberry Nights was "He must drive cinematographers crazy."
Off to see Kiyoshi Kurosawa's retribution in the Market.