Modern art is an attempt to burst free of the constraints of tight narrative structures, a continuous effort to drill through the strictures of worn-out visual shapes, to pierce a hole into tired acoustic patterns. Modernism is an incessant subversion. As someone has already noticed, cinema is just the cusp, the pinnacle of it. The art form that better defines the 20th century is vastly more revolutionary than the usual ‘retinal art’ – to use Duchamp’s infamous characterization of painting.
A metric for modern cinema can then quite possibly be given by how far its concrete instances pursue that visual breakthrough, how far they are willing to proceed in order to subvert exhausted cinematic structures. Moving contra gradient to the visually pleasant, to the intellectually predictable should be its unique norm. Modern art-cinema should then be characterized by how much it is our contemporary – and hence how little is frozen in mimetic constraints like 18th century art. Wong Kar-Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love‘ attempts just that: 1960s Hong-Kong becomes a rich visual tapestry of symbols, a meander of hidden references to psychological epiphanies – like the shiny rice containers, tokens of solitude.
The story of Chow and Su is best captured by the recurrent melody which enshrines their movements on screen. They are both rehearsing a relationship that will never happen, they revolve around an intimacy which is never physically attained.
In ancient Greece, κάθαρσις (catharsis) is the self-purification, the act of washing away emotions. Aristotle assigns to tragedy the cusp of cathartic power – the mirroring experienced by the viewer washes away his/her passions. Continuous rehearsal is Chow’s and Su’s catharsis: the artistic bravura of ‘In the Mood for Love’ is our (the viewers’) catharsis.
Free-will – as Libet has shown – is a delusion: also in the choice of films, one December evening; and everything can be cathartic – even a blog post.