slightly carla: day eight

that's right. day eight. for the first time ever, queue de grâce goes into overtime. when i get a list this good i am going to relish it. today is dedicated to sensory overload. our banquet of sights and sounds begins with wong kar-wai's in the mood for love (2000).

welcome to the most exquisite unconsummated love story of our generation. maggie cheung and vitagraph favorite tony leung portray next door neighbors in an apartment block in 1960 hong kong. similar schedules and similar arrangements with their respective spouses being away puts them in one another's orbit more and more frequently. they gradually grow closer, their bond strengthened by the suspicion, then confirmation, that their spouses are actually having an affair with each other. wary of gossip and staking a claim to the moral high ground, they do not act upon their feelings. it is a hollow victory, though, as the suppression of their passions leaves her as if a ghost and him burdened with a secret that he carries from hong kong to singapore to cambodia until he whispers it into the wall of a crumbling temple and seals it there with earth.

this film is very old hollywood. it takes the demureness, chastity and incredible glamour of that golden age and weds it to wong's contemplative sensibilities resulting in a visual feast that feels very much like falling in love. it is a 98 minute longing gaze, as almost every composition makes you feel like you are looking at something you can never have, through doorways, down corridors, between bars, around curtains. everything is claustrophobic, constrained, fraught with impediments and drenched in color that belies the protagonists' placid exteriors. theirs is a desperate, courtly melancholy which you will fully recognize if you have ever been in love. the soundtrack is built around a waltz refrain but it might as well be replaced by the sound of a quickening pulse, as the movie's foundation is the sound of that someone's voice on the phone, their newly familiar figure waiting for you on the street and their smell lingering on your clothes. it is a delicate reverie of things that can never be and it is nearly indescribably beautiful. on top of all that, (in a sentence you thought you would most likely never read here) maggie cheung's dresses are off the chain. i would not do the film justice if i didn't show you the color. can you imagine if this were the first color film you had ever seen? it might kill you.

a vivid riot of color, quietly raging hearts. an absolute must.

from there we travel halfway around to world to brazil for marcel camus' equally colorful but considerably less restrained black orpheus (1959).

it is camus' ultra-kinetic retelling of the orphic myth, updated to take place in a brazilian favela during carnaval. eurydice (the stunningly beautiful marpessa dawn), newly arrived in rio de janeiro, catches a ride on orfeu's trolley and the attraction is instant. there is just one problem, orfeu is engaged to the jealous, spiteful and violent mira. eurydice and orfeu forsake all else to be together and find themselves menaced by mira and the figure of carnaval reveler in the guise of death himself. they race through the streets of rio, amidst a swirl of never-ending drummers and dancers, attempting to avoid the wrath of lovers and specters until finally eurydice is cornered by the reaper. attempting to save her, orfeu accidentally causes her death and is wracked with grief. death takes her. orfeu descends into the underworld of the basement of the department of missing persons and takes part in a religious ritual which allows him to communicate with the spirit of his dead lover. it's not enough for the distraught orfeu and he must turn to look upon her, knowing that doing so will cause her to be lost to him forever. as night turns to day, he finally tracks down and retrieves her corpse and carries her back to his home. they arrive to find it engulfed in flames, set alight by the crazed mira. spotting her betrothed carrying his dead lover, mira hits him in the head with an immense stone, knocking the two of them over a cliff, killing orfeu as well. it is truly operatic. i am somewhat of two minds about this film. on one hand, it is an amazing showpiece. it throbs and writhes and overflows with color and music. while not the most polished production, its amateurish elements provide a sort of innocence, purity and earnestness. as a telling of the myth, it's like the most lavish school play ever imagined. carnaval provides unceasing rhythm and spectacle and is the perfect backdrop for all these inflamed passions. on the other hand, there is a slight tinge of exploitation. we see an awful lot of happy, exotic, dark-skinned people dancing and singing with zero acknowledgement of the poverty they live in or the real-life difficulties they faced on a daily basis. i know that may be a lot to ask from a film that's essentially a party/travelogue/haunted house, but it feels just a bit imbalanced because of that. it gets more of a pass, coming from 1959, i suppose. were it made in these more enlightened times, we might feel a bit differently about it. still and all, it provided a much-needed release from the corseted passions of the opener. that was one powerful, prismatic double feature. my eyes may need to adjust before i go on.

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