Mirror: The brief encounter of David Lean, Wong Kar Wai and Sofia Coppola

Originaly published in Old movies for modern times.

British director, Sir David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai) shows its emotional side in Brief Encounter (1945) filmed in England, previous to his Hollywood success with epic movies. With less silence and in black and white,Brief Encounter shares with indie American filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) or Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale,Margot at the Wedding), the same uncomfortable sensation in characters that feel their life is not going in the right direction, after the appearance of a door that gives them a taste of a different life style.

The story is narrated from Celia Johnson’s (Laura Jesson) point of view. A well married housewife, mother of two children. The same archetype performed by Meryl Streep in Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County. They are characters retained and almost alienated by routine. We don’t know the story behind their actual situation, but conformity and the lack of expectations can be seen in the surface through the excitement and the tender shame they experience when they have to face new sensations.

Once a week, Celia has to take the train at the same hour to town, that is her only escape, the only way she can leave the house and get a bit of artificial tension. After shopping she goes to the movies. Even when it is not exploited in the film, the idea of the lonely women sitting in front of the screen, let us realize that she has a range of emotions she saves just for her.

In one of her trips, she meets Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at the train station café. That will be the first encounter of a week to week secret. The couple shares long conversations walking at night while the train passes behind them in the opposite direction, leaving only the smoke. The train is their relation. It’s their opportunity to change their life forever, to encourage their selves to take the opposite direction.

Then comes guilt and the crucial moment, the final decision. Will they stay together or they will continue with their lives and families? The film got the Palm d’ Or at Cannes Film Festival in 1946. 54 years later, Chinese director Wong Kar Wai (2046) was nominated for the same price with his movie In the mood for love.

The film tells the story of two marriages, in the first one, the wife has to travel frequently, in the second one is the husband. So the equation leaves us at home a lonely husband Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and a lonely wife Su-Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung).

Together they discover that their respective traveler spouses have an extramarital relationship between each other. In a sick game, they try to recreate how their husband and wife met each other, without noticing they are starting to live their own romance.

The encounters open for them the door of company and conversation, always with the tense limit between friendship and love. Frequent scenes of them eating together, are the portrait of a couple that enjoys listening to each other. In a first stand the relationship runs out of passion and lives in a deep level of ideas. Behind that armor appears creativity as a key factor. He is a writer and she starts helping him with a novel, they start dreaming together, the mutual interior access to the inner worlds of each other generates a unique bond of intimacy. Just like Dr. Harvey and Celia going together to the cinema in Brief Encounter, the feelings that remained relegated, find in their companion a space to manifest naturally.

Also at Cannes, filmmaker Sofia Coppola thanked Wong Kari Wai for the inspiration she got from In the Mood For Love (2000) to write and direct Lost in Translation(2003). The meeting of a young American just married woman with an actor that is filming a commercial in Japan, who is taking advantage of the crumbs of his previews success, shares the idea of a door that opens to the life they already have and also the opportunity of finally finding a soul mate.

In the three stories, love is exposed as a recovery of innocence. The excitement of starting again in mature characters, make them leave sex in a second level.The script of In the Mood for Love had several sex scenes, but finally Wong Kar Wai decided to tell a story that was beyond bodies, it was about the final sense of life, the real taste of happiness gained with soul compatibility.

But that also has a risk. How real is that love? If characters remain together they can start a new routine. If they continue with their lives as they are, they will charge forever the secret of the love they shared with each other and they will always have the eternal fantasy of an alternative life.

In the mood for love turns the “secret” concept into a spiritual metaphor. The story says that you can confess anything to a tree to free your soul, which inspired the final sequence of Lost in Translation, we don’t know what the characters conversation is about, but it is the only moment they experience their relationship with total freedom. In David Lean the secret is related with self forgive.

What is silence in Wong Kar Wai and Sofia Coppola is conversation in David Lean. What is hope in David Lean is peace in Wong Kar Wai and humor in Sofia Coppola. What is sadness in David Lean is resignation in Wong Kar Wai and tenderness in Sofía Coppola. The train passes and the secret will remain forever in the tree.