Tag Archives: Wong Kar-wai

Giulia Tronconi: In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem


A wonderful video essay where one feels one is learning something more about the form of the film through feeling and thinking, and the video essay demonstrates the condensation of effects that achieve this. …and without voiceover. The Creator’s Statement is essential to the understanding and appreciation of the video essay and I include it below:


Creator Statement


Through In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem I express my admiration for Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to let visuals speak poetically. I resort to film theory and literary criticism to explore how images on screen may be employed as objective correlatives and subsequently traced back to semantic fields, which in return convey physical and emotional sensations to the spectating subject through what Barbara Klinger has named the arresting image. Although Klinger’s original formulation contemplates the presence of just one arresting image in a film, I conjugate her theory in a slightly different fashion, dissecting the film’s mise-en-scène according to a range of emotions, interlinked yet discernible. Simultaneously, I engage with theories of haptic visuality as formulated by Vivian Sobchack, exploring how the cinematic image may stimulate the viewer’s sensorial receptivity in order to achieve emotional impact, framing the film experience as “a system of communication based on bodily perception as a vehicle of conscious expression”[1]. Through my essay I investigate whether film may be considered a poetic medium: I understand the use of certain elements of mise-en-scène as a visual extension of literary devices, ultimately enhancing the medium’s expressive capacities.

In the Mood for Love is an invitation to feeling – material and emotional. Wong Kar-Wai subtly creates tensions which carry throughout the film, allowing the viewer to physically perceive, albeit virtually, the textures, prints and patterns on screen; to experience the tender feelings of loneliness, yearning and heartbreak which permeate the text. Thus, I divide the essay in three chapters corresponding to these emotions, which together encompass what the viewing experience of In the Mood for Love is to me. I consider each section to be a semantic field comprising of a number of objective correlatives and provide a range of arresting images which epitomise the moment of highest emotional intensity.

The objective correlative is a literary device coined by T.S. Eliot and defined as the only truly artistic way of expressing emotion: “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”[2] Eliot envisions the objective correlative as a powerful tool whose presence in the text inevitably arouses an emotional reaction. The correlatives themselves contain a universally understandable meaning, affordable to any reader; they do not require explanation on behalf of the author, for they are objectively expressive[3]. Objective correlatives tend to respond to semantic fields: a collection of words and images employed to subtly establish a specific idea, atmosphere, emotion[4]. References to such literary devices advance my claim of In the Mood for Love as a visual poem, in that the film presents what I name visual objective correlatives: camera movements, framing devices, details such as food, clothing and cigarettes, which work together to convey loneliness, yearning and heartbreak. These semantic fields culminate in arresting images, namely what Klinger refers to as ‘memorable cinematic fragments’, a ‘site of lingering affective power and uncertain meaning’[5]. The arresting image holds significant evocative force, for it slows down the narrative. The film’s forward motion is momentarily suspended, allowing for the contemplation of an ‘exquisitely composed, significantly evocative and/or uncanny image’ [6].

Objective correlatives, semantic fields and arresting images all emphasise the strongly affective dimension of art, its capacity to agitate the reader’s sensorial and emotional receptivity. Klinger attributes the allure of the arresting image to the way it exploits the emotions that have been mounting in the spectator throughout the film[7]. In the Mood for Love progressively creates meaning by leveraging the sensorial nature of the cinematic medium, building patterns of motifs which trigger emotions. The video essay references haptic theory as conceptualised by Vivian Sobchak: “we do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium.”[8] Film, although inherently immaterial, is a medium which manages to establish sensorial engagement and emotional involvement. This form of participation entails identification, prompting the recollection of past events and past selves, necessarily affecting the viewing experience[9]. For such reason, I focus much of my research on tangible, perceivable objects which speak to the viewer universally, encouraging to reminisce of certain smells, flavours, sensations on the tip of the finger.

Therefore, I associate semantic fields as follows. Loneliness, the primary feeling experienced by the two characters during the film, conveyed through visual techniques such as the horizontal pan, the mirrored image and the frame within frame. I manipulate, superimpose, contrast the footage to show how the text speaks of solitude by creating movement in cramped spaces, obstructing vision and centring the frame around reflected figures rather than actual characters. I provide this image as the epitome of loneliness, where all visual devices are suspended to create a puzzling moment of contemplation.


Yearning, the impulse to pursue passion and the painful refusal to do so, symbolised by food, hands and the qipao. First, I find one arresting image for the act of eating as alternative expression of sexual desire; secondly, a different image, containing both the objective correlatives of the hand and the qipao, expressive of the acknowledgement of the impossibility of fulfilled love.

And finally heartbreak, the end of love and the bittersweet closing line of the film. I find one arresting image for the objective correlatives of cigarettes and one for the pink slippers, as two moments with an unusual temporal status, almost appearing outside of time, in a fantasy dream-like dimension[10].



By selecting these images, I find frames in the film which seem to stand outside the narrative flow, marked by a profoundly affective, puzzling and arresting quality. Physical and emotional feelings travel from the screen to the viewer by means of expressive images which function as visual metaphors and infuse the film with its distinct poetic aura. I let the images speak for themselves, allowing an uninterrupted flow on screen, temporarily arrested only to encourage the viewer to experience a brief, yet profound, sense of loneliness, yearning, heartbreak.




[1] V. Sobchack, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992), pp. 9;

[2] T.S. Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems 95-103, The Sacred Wood: essays on poetry and criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);

[3] Olsen, F., Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);

[4] H. Rapaport, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011)

[5]B. Klinger, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited, 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK), pp 26;

[6] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 26;

[7] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 24;

[8] V. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004), pp 63;

[9] B. Klinger, op. cit, pp. 21;

[10] B Klinger, op. cit, pp 25;




  • In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Orly Films, Paradis Films, China, 2000)


  • Ciment, Michel, Niogret, Hubert, Interview with Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love / 2000, Positif 477 in (ed.) Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee, Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);
  • Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee (ed.) , Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Klinger, Barbara, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK);
  • Olsen, Flemming, Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);
  • Rapaport, Herman, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004).


‘Ten Films in Ten Days’: Day Five – Maria Candelaria


Day Five: Maria Candelaria (Emilio Fernández, Mexico, 1944)

I have a particular love for melodramas that actually make you cry, and sometimes also gasp at the impossible beauty and sadness of it all, in whatever style: Sirk (Imitation of Life), Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love), King Vidor (Stella Dallas), Lean (Brief Encounter), Maria Luisa Bemberg (Camila). Today I’m in the mood for those directed by Emilio Fernández.. His films often focused on the marginalised in society, fishermen, peasant farmers, prostitutes, gangsters, usually cast from the great beauties of the day (Maria Felix, Dolores Del Rio, Pedro Armendariz) . The setting was usually rural, (Flor Silvestre, La Perla, Maria Candelaria) sometimes historical and revolutionary (Río Escondido, Salon Mexico, Enamorada, Las abandonadas) . The great Gabriel Figueroa filmed Mexico, it’s landscapes and its people with great skill and feeling so as to show beauty, complexity, depth, so that it ennobled those people and that place. The endings were often tragic. Dolores Tierney has already chosen Enamorada so today I chose Maria Candelaria. Particularly because of that moment where Dolores Del Rio as Maria Candelaria goes to sell her flowers, the flowers she needs to make a living, to feed her pig, and thus to marry. And the whole village, who’s been whispering that she’s the daughter of a prostitute, turns out in their canoes to stop her from doing so, thus denying her honest work and almost certainly condemning her to her mother’s life. It’s an unsentimental moment –peasants can be nasty, violent, cruel; communities can destroy and cast out – but a beautiful one in terms of the way its filmed and also the sadness, unfairness, and determination that it expresses.

Martin Scorsese’s appreciation of the director and one of his other great films, Enamorada, can be seen here

José Arroyo

A Fantastic Woman/ Una mujer fantástica (Sebastian Lélio, Chile, 2017)

mujer fantastica

Like the lovers in Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together (1997), Marina (Daniela Vega) and Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dream of visiting the Iguazu Falls. Marina and Orlando have just moved in together, and in fact Orlando has bought tickets to go. But he’s older, can’t remember where he’s put them and offers her an IOU. That evening, they go to bed in their usual manner but he suffers an aneurysm during the night. As she searches for the car keys, he goes out the door and falls down the stairs. At the clinic, they ask Marina about her relationship with Orlando, begin to twitch that she’s transgender, and the problems begin. As Orlando is declared dead at the clinic, those problems will get worse.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 15.08.12.png
Everything’s against Marina

The police arrive, and since the change in her ID is still in process, insist on addressing her as a man and treating her as a criminal rather than a bereaved partner. Gabo, Orland’s brother, arrives and apologises to Marina, ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this.’ But his obligation is to ‘the family’, which she is most emphatically excluded from. Soon, the ex-wife comes in to kick her out of the apartment that is the home she shared with Orlando. It starts off polite but ends up being forceful; the police come in, ostensibly to help, but really to humiliate her; the son and his friends will kidnap Marina, distort her face with tape, and dump her on a side street. I expected much worse and find it interesting that the film chooses to end it there and not focus more on physical violence.

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 09.26.54.png
Who Am I?


The violence in A Fantastic Woman is all psychological but no less powerful for that. Marina is denied her history, her identity, her relationship, her apartment, her dog; and even the right to mourn the person she loved, which she insists is a human right. Any gay man d’un certain age will be familiar with this story, particularly those who lost loved ones at the height of the AIDS years and before wider legal and social acceptance of homosexuality. The partner who you loved and cared for dies and you’re left with not even a place at the funeral in case your very presence might offend the congregation. The fight for trans rights is a logical continuation of the fight for lesbian and gay rights; this film vividly, in a very personal way, demonstrates the hows and whys.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 15.54.18.png
The violent deformations of ‘respectable’ people

A Fantastic Woman is a complex and fascinating meditation on mourning and on the complexities of identity. Instead of, as is typical, showing us Marina’s effects on people, everything, including that effect, is filmed from her point of view. Her feelings, identities, wishes, desires, dreams are the focus on the film. And people’s well meaning but ignorant, passive-aggressive and ultimately violent denial of her humanity is what the film movingly demonstrates. But she will withdraw, survive and live to fight another day, and with beautiful music.


The film is imaginatively shot by Benjamín Echazarreta and there are some very striking and evocative images. The film is directed with a poetic touch as well, as it moves into dance numbers to evoke Marina’s feelings; dream sequences that evoke the complexities of her situation and her desires, and there are thrilling musical moments, first when Marina performs a salsa song in a nightclub (Periodico de ayer) later, the classic numbers she sings, particularly at the end (Handel’s Ombra mai fu).

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 11.37.46.png
On genitals and Being.

The film has been compared to Almódovar’s work, which surprises me. Yes, there is a transgender protagonist; and yes, it’s a great film. But what strikes me most about this film is the absence of camp. Marina is strong and she suffers; and there are moments of rage; but it’s her quiet, polite, elegant, strength that is the focus of the film. In her home, she might box away her frustration. But on the street she’s soft-voiced, cultured, polite with a quiet strength that will not compromise winning a particular battle for the thrill of an easy laugh. It’s the quiet strength necessary to achieve justice, one embodied by Daniela Vega’s impassive but understanding gaze, that is to me the central thrust of the film. Particularly, in instances where she gazes directly at the camera, as if saying, ‘bear witness to what the world is doing to me; to what it takes for me to live in this world, your world’. I’d like to see it again.

Singing Handel

Currently available to see on Curzon Home Cinema

José Arroyo