moonlight

Will Schube is a thief and he digs it.

I. 2046 (2004) – Directed by Wong Kar Wai

This is one of the aforementioned spiritual sequels to In The Mood For Love (2000). 2046 may be a year, but I think it’s a place. It’s a place where people fall in love or forget about the ones that didn’t love back. It’s a difficult film to explain, so here are all of the things I remember about it:

  1. The main character, Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) repeats an anecdote told in In the Mood for Love: That in the old days, people with secrets would climb to the top of a mountain, carve a hole in a tree, whisper said secret into the hole, and cover it with moss. It may be a metaphor. It may just be something people used to do.
  2. Wong Kar Wai loves rain. A lot.
  3. There are really lovely shots of a large neon sign on a roof. There are often people to the side of the sign, just slightly in frame. These people are always pondering, often about love. It’s one of my favorite parts of the film, the way in which Wai manages to observe these behaviors without seeming intrusive.
  4. There’s a shot about 45 minutes into the film in which Chow is asleep in a car and I’m 99% sure Paul Thomas Anderson uses this shot as inspiration for the moment between Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Ferguson in The Master when Phoenix passes out at the restaurant. That shot is a work of art.
  5. There’s another shot about 50 minutes into the film in which Wai shows lovemaking from an over-the-head vantage point. The camera is above the bed, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film showcase sex in such a way.
  6. Wai does a really cool thing when he cuts to still frames.
  7. The second half of the film feels like a narratively driven ode to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
  8. “Love is all about timing…It’s no use meeting the right person too soon or too late.”

II. Vivre Sa Vie (1962) – Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

This is possibly my favorite Jean-Luc Godard movie. It matches the playfulness of his silliest work with the dialectical philosophy of his most practiced films. Vivre Sa Vie (My Life to Live) comes after Breathless (1960) and A Woman is a Woman (1961) but before his incredible run of Le Petit Soldat (1963), Contempt (1963), and Band of Outsiders (1964). To think of any director—let alone an all-time great—releasing six outstanding films in five years is mind boggling. Godard made it look easy. Vivre and the criminally underrated Alphaville (1965) are probably my two favorites, but there are too many to choose.

Vivre Sa Vie is perfect because it comes after JLG’s bullshitting fun years (Breathless) and before his pretentious ones (Contempt). It’s the perfect blend of art both high and low. The film is told through twelve ‘tablets,’ a dozen mini stories that revolve around Nana (Anna Karina) and her quest for spiritual freedom. The film is dedicated to b-movies, and at one point, Karina utters, “Don’t talk nonsense. This isn’t a stage.” She should have winked at the camera.

There’s a scene in Vivre Sa Vie in which Anna Karina writes an entire letter and Godard films the process word for word. She writes and dictates a few fragments, pauses, repeats, and does so again until the letter is finished. It’s oddly charming yet totally exaggerated; which is pretty much the ideal version of Godard. The film features a lovely conversation between Karina and a philosopher, and a visit to the movie theater to watch a few scenes from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), a film that Godard introduces to eventually parrot at the end of his film. And Godard’s work is often little more than parroting, but as I seem to repeat each week in this column, great filmmakers are great thieves. Godard is the best.

III. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) – Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

I’m gonna get “Another Day Another Almodóvar” tattooed on my ass. My journey through his filmography continues, although there have been a few this past week that I’ve missed. I caught Women on the Edge on FilmStruck, a site I highly recommend subscribing to if you’re a fan of Criterion. It has most of their movies, and the hardest part isn’t the $99 annual subscription, but choosing what to watch first once you drop that hundo.

The film is excellent from its early moments, with a title sequence that rivals Saul Bass’ best work. The comparison to Hitchcock’s closest collaborator shouldn’t come as a surprise, because as I’ve established before, Almodóvar is a Spanish, modern Hitch. It’s truly a blast to watch.

The world that Women takes place in is artificial. The exteriors are purposely designed to appear fake, the characters are voiceover TV actors, and the film plays out as a flawlessly executed melodrama. It’s one of Almodóvar’s best, in part because he owes as much to Douglas Sirk as he does Hitchcock. There’s a real empathy in this film, something Hitchcock never quite nails in his work. These characters are people, and Almodóvar really accents their humanity in Women on the Edge. This 1988 classic is certainly one of his best.

IV. Moonlight (2016) – Directed by Barry Jenkins

This is still the best movie of 2016. It’s not even close. Maybe Arrival is up there? I can make a case for Jackie, as well. Anything but La La Land. Please no more La La Land.

Many words have already been spilled on Moonlight, so I’ll keep it brief. First of all, some of Barry Jenkins’ filmic decisions are really cool. The way he whips the camera back and forth between two characters having a conversation really lends itself to the film’s aesthetic. This is something Godard does in Vivre Sa Vie, but I didn’t want to mention it in fear of spoiling this point with regards to Moonlight. Most directors employ a shot-reverse-shot approach, in which the camera sits over the shoulder of the person receiving the message‚ focusing on the speaker. When it’s time for a response, the camera cuts to the opposite side. Part of Moonlight’s frenetic pace comes from this lack of a cut, the continuation of conversation through camera pans and the way DP James Laxton circles around the characters as if an audience is forming.

I have 15 different favorite scenes in Moonlight, but my favorite right now is when Juan (Mahershala Ali) takes Little (Alex Hibbert) swimming. The time of day, the camera fluidity and the way it floats just above the water, constantly ducking beneath the surface and getting splashed on…it’s all so perfect. I love the lighting in Little’s mother, Paula’s (Naomi Harris) room, and the scene between her and Black (Trevante Rhodes) some years later. I enjoyed this film significantly more than I did the first time around, and I thought it was one of the year’s best after that first viewing. It’s worth watching multiple times. Lastly, I love Barry Jenkins. On a superficial level, he introduced me to Wong Kar Wai simply by name-dropping him as an inspiration. That’s the only way to learn and discover new shit. Your heroes are your heroes because they had heroes, too. Find those heroes and make them your own. Aside from these directorial name drops, the many interviews I’ve listened to and watched with Jenkins since the film’s release all show that he’s the perfect combination of humble and confident, assured and proud of his work yet thankful for the success. It’s a happy occasion when good people get rewarded for great work. It doesn’t always work that way. Hopefully the Academy will recognize what I do—the fact that Barry Jenkins made far and away the most unique, brilliant, heartbreaking, and enjoyable movie of 2016.