There are phrases, like the Beckettian ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, which can become, for some personal reason, a life motto. There are movies, which for the same reason, verify and enhance the desire to place oneself into the very heart of a cinematic narrative, to exchange fiction for reality.
Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (1997) is a film about the promise of renewal, about tender love and male friendship. Yet it is also a film about personal paths, multiple endings and beginnings, a roller coaster of choices bringing us all the same to where it all started: a game, a persistent paradox, a life in full. And what makes this spiralling of ‘endless beginnings’ priceless is their echoing in our own emotional status, like an invitation into a vortex of feelings which would otherwise remain inaccessible.
As in most of Wong’s films, the protagonists – in this case two men, Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) – exist and interact within the visual array of an urban setting. Buzzing metropolitan cities, like Hong Kong and Buenos Aires, alternate with the poetic drenched tones of inner environments and places, like apartments and bars. This mundane setting of everyday city life is juxtaposed with the sensational, untamed beauty of Iguazu Falls. The Falls remain a beautiful metonymy throughout the film, an ideal place where forces of nature unleash their awe-inspiring seductiveness, making its spectacle both a haven of instinctive attraction and a fatal trap of unaccomplished dreams.
Another visible if not tactile characteristic of this film is how bodies approach each other, embrace, caress, hold firmly or lead gently, with the excuse of learning tango. Tango, largely exoticised as a dance of passion and explicit male dominance, here returns to its queer roots, challenging both roles of leader and follower, male-to-male proximity and improvised encounters. For our two characters, tango remains their only way to access desire, yet between them it is not an accomplished body language, not an evidence of grace. Their tango is a sign of constant renegotiation of space and feelings, an intimate event of reaching towards the other but with the fear of what this coming together might bring.