Happy Together

Happy Together ★★★★½

Does anyone use pop music in cinema better than Wong Kar-wai? I've rewatched the ending of Happy Together a ridiculous number of times since first seeing it, and I thought I should rewatch the entire film to make that final music choice as cathartic as it felt during my first viewing. In the mid 1990s, Wong released three consecutive movies concluding with perfect music choices (Dream Lover in Chungking Express, Only You in Fallen Angels, Happy Together in Happy Together) and each music cue worked better than the last. The irony of using Happy Together in this movie is so perfectly balanced. This is a film where the lead couple are decidedly not happy together, yet the emotional release of those final moments shows us even truer happiness. Happiness isn't about always been happy and loving every moment, it's about having a place you can always return to. It's about being at peace with yourself. After watching a film of struggles, but also of slow realisations about what matters, the ending couldn't be any more perfect. The train pulls into a neon-tinged station, we're finally going home.

Happy Together begins with plenty of dynamic black and white sequences, before ever-expanding colour takes over the story. The colourless world representing a lonelier past becomes less significant to proceedings as the characters grapple again with the present. The black and white was in deep focus, sharp and crisp. By contrast, the colour is often blurry and hazy (memories that rush by, rather than be lingered upon). The colour palette is over-saturated, as yellows and blues blob in the distance. Lamps and light shades frequently hang into shot, as their filters covers the world and give it texture. The loneliness of black and white is gone, as nothing's simple when you now have other people to consider. Glaring sunlight and lens flares shine down on the characters. Christopher Doyle's exquisite cinematography works in every format, as Happy Together switches from monochrome to saturated colours to dirtied filters. Every shot is creative. Doyle's camerawork uses large gaps in the onscreen space, creating an open cinematography that is simultaneously enclosed. Shots are framed with objects jutting in from the side, symmetry be damned, and creating a lopsided, claustrophobic world. This is frames within frames, but even subtler and smarter than the much-discussed visuals of In the Mood for Love. Doyle cuts off people equally well but uses wider spaces for a less literal entrapment. Water can be reflected until black, entrapping people even when in an open expanse. Yet Happy Together has an escape from it all: an enormous waterfall, one that represents freedom and escape, no more entrapment. It's real-life but mythical, a destination as much as a dream. In some stunning moments, we see the beauty of the waterfall, as blues and browns collide into an evaporating abyss. These are moments of calm, like so many in Happy Together, but what makes the film is its contrast. So much is fast and brief, the flashes of life, but the film is lingering and contemplative between these kinetic bursts. This is a film of jump cuts then long pauses, life's flow of immediacy then abandonment. As a result, Happy Together is a film that passes by so quickly, losing you in its world just like the characters. This is a film of dirtied walls and dilapidated rooms, all lived in but quickly forgotten, leaving only irremovable memories and feelings.

A messy, damaged relationship is at the centre of Happy Together. They turn up on each other's doorstep, bloodied or drunk. It's a relationship built on dependency, relying on each other and flailing into despair without it. The characters are poor, but they manage, sustained somehow, through love perhaps. In a rare joyous moment, they dance without music, slowly, just happy together. But then, in just a few scenes, it's back to jealousy and rage. This is about having no one so bonding with anyone, even those who aren't good for you, seems better than being alone. It takes to courage to move on. Happy Together is about the cycle of always ending up back in the same place, with the same person, and never truly getting to where you need to be. There's sadness, because this relationship is doomed to fail and leave both sides distraught. You need to wash away the blood and move on. You can pretend to look happy, but that doesn't mean you are. Sometimes we need to realise the lies we tell ourselves (it will be better this time). Numbing the pain through one-off human encounters isn't a solution. Numbing the pain in other ways doesn't help either, as the lead ends up crying and vomiting in the same position, letting it all out and still not being free. Happy Together depicts solidarity and friendship, contrasting it with love and lust, and showing ways to escape from being lost in the world. The film is so focused on individuals in a place they don't belong that Argentina eventually becomes just a backdrop. This is loneliness and love entwined, neither totally true, but they so often feel like all there is.

Happy Together is a perfect film about loneliness in a crowded world, something Wong Kar-wai always captures so well. The central trio (Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Leslie Cheung, Chang Chen) are three of Asia's finest actors and they complete this film of longing, so often focused on them in a quiet manner. The film goes to the end of the world, to a lighthouse of broken souls, and cleanses itself in preparation for happiness. Happy Together is transitional, ending on the frothy comfort of Wong's earlier masterpieces Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, but before then telling a story of agonisingly lonely love, something Wong returned to in his next film In the Mood for Love. Which is perfect, because Happy Together has neither a beginning nor an end, it's just an episode in a story from a life. "Lonely people are all the same," narrates Leung's character. Perhaps, but Wong Kar-wai shows us the pain of every one.

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