Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors about what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
A simple plot description does nothing to prepare prospective viewers of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love. Yes, there’s a story: set in early 1960s Hong Kong, the film charts a long-lasting, unconsummated flirtation between two neighbors—Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai)—married to others. But it’s a purely visual work, an evocation of romantic and sexual longing that plays out as an abstract emotional poem. “This film is not verbal,” said Wong in 2000. “Everything is expressed through the body, through the people, how they walk, how they move.” In the clip below, like many scenes in the film wordless and shot in slow motion, you can see precisely what he means. As the ever polite Su Li-zhen and Chow Mo-wan briefly pass each other in the narrow staircase of a noodle bar, they exchange little more than a glance, yet their subtle eye contact and the way their bodies move in their exquisitely tailored clothes express an undeniable eroticism. Meanwhile, the waltz on the soundtrack (borrowed from Shigeru Umebayashi’s score for Seijun Suzuki’s 1991 Yumeji) makes their movements seem romantically choreographed. Wong said he felt the theme, which recurs throughout the film, was integral to the overall design, as he saw In the Mood for Love as being about “two people dancing together slowly.”