My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette ★★★

About a third of the way into this movie, there's an ambitious, ornate tracking shot through a nightclub. Although it only lasts 70 seconds, it seems to condense hours of plot time into one graceful, unbroken camera movement. Moving left to right, the camera pauses on Omar and Johnny (two embattled men in love) as they share champagne, then continues on past customers dancing to generic '80s pop. Johnny appears again, negotiating a drug deal—they're in the club raising funds to remodel their laundrette—and there's Omar again too, leaning against a pillar while smoking a cigarette. Finally, the camera reaches the end of the club (and implicitly, the end of the night), where Johnny's dancing with a young woman, and where something curious happens.

If you watch the tiled mirrors on the nightclub wall, you can clearly see the camera and its operator on a dolly advancing down a set of tracks. I'm dwelling on this for a few reasons: 1) So I can emphasize that tiny errors like this afflict every production and have no real bearing on a film's quality. 2) So I can say that, in fact, I actually liked this error, which I found endearing as an add-on to an already marvelous shot. 3) It's accidentally meta, like a split-second bit of behind-the-scenes documentation hidden in the background of the film itself. My Beautiful Laundrette is a tricky movie, mixing its unsubtle Big Themes (race relations, the Thatcher-era economy) and contrived plotting with a warmth that recalls early Wong Kar-wai. But if you want a prime example of that latter quality, you could do worse than this richly lit shot and the slip of the camera within it.