Mu Blueberry Nights
Wong Kar-Wai's American audience has come to know his work through his films "In the Mood for Love" and "2046," two related but hermetic studies of broken loves and unsatisfied lives in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Now he's decided to make a first film in English, and a very American one at that (co-written with Lawrence Block, the crime novelist). So he's taken an American musical star, Norah Jones, as Elizabeth, his version of the Tony Leung character in those two films - lovelorn, drifting, never revealing too much about herself - and put her on a road trip through the United States.
She begins in New York, where she's just lost the love of her life and happens upon a strange cafe/bakery run by Jeremy (Jude Law) - another broken man, whom we will see saying goodbye to the love of his own life. He offers her his blueberry pie a la mode to help her forget. But before long she begins her journey, first to Memphis, where she takes jobs as a waitress in a diner and as a barmaid at night. There her customer is David Strathairn, a tragic drunk, separated but still married to the love of his life, Rachel Weisz. Elizabeth (now Lizzie), is the sounding board rather than an initiator; she is saving her money just to get a car; it's as though her road trip is all she can think of as a future.
We next see her in Ely, Nevada, where, again as a waitress in a casino, she meets Leslie (Natalie Portman), a spectacular poker player in blonde hairdo and a brilliant wardrobe; a fantastic personality, you cannot take your eyes off of her even when she says to Elizabeth (now Beth), "Don't ever trust anyone, not even yourself," and means it. At the game her unbilled opponent is Eric Roth in a lovely cameo.
Elizabeth has written postcards to Jeremy as she goes along, and we see his growing but unrequited love for her, but he cannot find her no matter how many cafes he phones. Finally, Beth and Leslie end up in Las Vegas, where Beth's trip ends. And (thanks to an insight by a good friend) we can see that at that point is where Elizabeth learns enough about love and loss that she now can go back to New York and Jeremy.
What I haven't told you is how visually beautiful the film is; Wong Kar-Wai and his cinematographer Darius Khondji (an Oscar nomination for "Evita") have found a languorous beauty in every shot, whether of a bar or a landscape; and the stunning vision that New Yorkers take for granted in their elevated trains (which he shoots by undercranking the camera to make them zoom past, windows lit in the night) is hypnotic to watch.
As usual, Wong seems to be as interested in his compositions as in his people; he starts the film with a close-up shot of a piece of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream deliquescing on top of it, and he ends with the same shot. As he does in "2046" and "In the Mood for Love," where his people occupy only a portion of the screen, at every one of Elizabeth's stops he finds a way to set his people at a distance behind a foreground obstruction, or (as in Memphis), a trolley rolling past in the background. I thought the film was beautiful to see, and the songs of lost love on the soundtrack were perfect for the mood. A strange and most original film; I loved it.