When work on the film 2046 began before 2004, Hong Kong film star Tony Leung lobbied hard for director Wong Kar-wai to let him grow a mustache. This was because his character, Chow Mo-wan, was totally different to how he was in 2046‘s prequel In the Mood for Love: whereas Chow in Mood was a gentlemanly journalist, 2046‘s Chow was an emotionally hollow hack writing erotic tales and obsessed with the room number “2046,” which serves as the recurring motif of memories concerning his neighbor’s wife, Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). Leung simply could not recognize the identity of 2046‘s Chow as the same Chow of Mood. Leung needed some visual distinction that would help him concentrate on acting a character he had played to near-perfection before, but whose script he couldn’t meaningfully read as belonging to the same man.
It’s a classic moment in film, one of quite a few from Federico Fellini’s black and white cinematic masterpiece. The charismatic but emotionally lost gossip columnist Marcello Rubini, played by Marcello Mastroianni, is at the beach, holding his hands up in bemused resignation as he struggles and fails to discern the shouts of a young girl in the distance. Eventually, he can’t make out her words and leaves. The girl’s name, played by Valeria Ciangottini (she was personally chosen by the director) is Paola and Marcello (Rubini) has seen the character before in a restaurant – a sweet angel from a lost world of innocent affection, when love just meant love and nothing else. What might have happened had he been able to respond to her waving and shouting? The implication is that it would have been an encounter far removed from and superior to his Roman world of fallen aristocrats, broken celebrities, and suicidal intellectuals.
But the causes and conditions just weren’t there. He certainly behaves that way. He doesn’t rush to her. He seems hardly desperate to escape the emptiness of his life and reach for that remote if possible alternative future. His languid posture as he kneels on the sand, his reluctance and even laziness to move at all, speaks of a spiritual lethargy and “giving up” that has crippled him permanently as far as Fellini is concerned. This is no Hollywood where the protagonist cornily realizes the error of his ways and makes amends.