Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Claire Denis Films

A spotlight on Claire Denis featuring the following 5 films:

Nénette et Boni (1996)
Beau Travail (1999)
Friday Night (2002)
L’Intrus (2004)
White Material (2009)

L’Intrus -- A global journey

First, there was the sound.

Then, there was the image.

Without the sound, the image meant nothing. Without the image, the sound would have not have had such an effect.

A simple image with a simple discordant sound in the background.

Another image, with the same sound.

L’Intrus features many images with variations of the same opening background score by Stuart Staples’ (Tindersticks) solo score. Staples' score is set either against stationary images or against fast moving objects such as the dogs in the snow. The music produces a mesmerizing effect in all cases and adds a layer of mystery around each image while accelerating the pace of the film. When his score comes on, it takes center stage allowing one to listen to it perfectly while observing the images. Normally, in most films one only gets to listen to a few seconds of a background score before the music gets muted when the actors start talking. But in L'Intrus, Claire Denis ensures the music is given enough of a presence. In a sense, Staples' score forms a bridge between the various images and is a key component in carrying the story.

The combination of these images with Staples' score produced a haunting lasting impact on me when I first saw L’Intrus more than a year ago. I always felt that it was a film that demanded a second viewing so that I could move beyond the hypnotic seductive impact of the images and dig a bit deeper into the story. Thankfully, the second viewing proved immensely rewarding and easily confirmed L’Intrus as my favourite Claire Denis film and in this category I include White Material, Beau Travail and I Can’t Sleep.

The story of L’Intrus can be easily summarized as a tale of the missing heart. Louis (Michel Subor) requires a heart transplant to save his life but nothing is the same after he gets his new heart.

He goes on a long journey to gather a part of his past because that would help fill his new heart with love and satisfaction.

In reality, he needs to find his long lost son because his current son (played by Grégoire Colin) is hardly capable of any love. Neither does Louis’ sultry seductive neighbour offer any love although she haunts his fantasies.
Louis names his neighbour (Béatrice Dalle) “queen of the northern hemisphere” and she truly is a queen, who can not only tame men but wild beasts as well.
As tempting as she is, the queen can never mend Louis’ heart. So he is forced to undertake a journey to a more warmer paradise where his past lies.

L’Intrus is a journey across the planet as envisioned by Claire Denis. The film locations consist of snowy landscapes, perfect beaches, rainy ships, a peaceful countryside with some hills, a crowded city and a tense border crossing. The film is inspired by a Jean-Luc Nancy book L’Intrus about a heart transplant that creates a sense of an invasion of the body but in reality, it is the film that invades the mind of its viewer, implants images and sounds that will continue to play long after the film fades to black.

Beau Travail -- working in the sun, dancing under the strobe lights

A kiss. Cue music, Tarkan’s "Şımarık".

The patrons grove to the music. The club is the only escape for French soldiers stuck in an endless cycle of chores which seems to freeze time for them.

The camera observes their activities in the hot sun, be it digging

or just having a duel.

Opera music heightens the impact of the duel and provides a nice balance to the pulsating dance music found in the clubs.

There are three men who the camera chooses to focus more on and in a sense these three men represent different rungs of power. There is the young, confident Gilles (Grégoire Colin),
then there is a conflicted Galoup (Denis Lavant) who is battling his inner demons, including suppressing his desires while Commander Bruno (Michel Subor) gives out orders.

The film consists of discrete images that can be pieced together as one wants. The ending is a clear example of that. One can interpret a sad ending or just enjoy observing Lavant’s character finally letting loose and dancing his heart out to Corona’s Rhythm of the Night.

Like L’Intrus, Beau Travail is another film that demands a second viewing.

Open air cinema to a closed room

The best cinematic experience of my life took place in Sept 2009 when I was fortunate enough to witness White Material debut at the Venice Film Festival. In my case, I caught the open air screening of the film in campo San Polo. The experience was incredible as the empty dark space around the white screen added infinite depth to the film while the blowing wind enhanced the experience and allowed me to soak and breathe in the African surroundings depicted in the film. The only negative aspect was that the French film only had Italian subtitles meaning I missed out some of the specific aspects of the plot. Still, the film was not difficult to follow because of the wonderful visual language.

Almost two years to the date of my Venice screening, I finally saw the English subtitled version of the film and that has only increased my admiration for the film. However, it felt a bit stifling to see the film on a smaller TV screen in a closed setting. In this regard, I would have had the same feeling if I had seen the film in a movie theater because White Material has to be seen in an open air setting to maximize the effect of the natural lighting used in the film. Using natural light was a decision born of circumstances and not a production decision. As per Claire Denis, the lighting equipment did not arrive in Africa on time and would have been delayed for weeks. So she decided the crew should go ahead and shoot as much without any natural lights although Isabelle Huppert was not immediately informed of this. White Material was the first collaboration between Denis and cinematographer Yves Cape. In her previous films, Denis worked with Agnès Godard but Godard was not available so Denis decided to go ahead with Yves Cape because she liked his work in Bruno Dumont’s films. The choice proved to be an inspired one as Yves managed to capture the heat and harshness of the landscape perfectly in each frame. An equally inspired decision came in another sequence shot inside a darkened room entirely with flashlights. That scene manages to capture some of the tension and myth around the character of the Boxer nicely. The Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) is immensely intriguing and appears to be a mixture of several past African leaders. Another aspect that stands out is the fact that White Material appears to be the first film I have seen a character portrayed by Huppert to be venerable and weak. Normally, she portrays characters completely in control but in White Material her character Maria is at the mercy of events and is forced to seek help.

Cameroon standing in for West Africa

The above wide angle shot from White Material watches Maria run away from the screen and as she runs away, she appears to diminish in size until it looks like a little girl is running. In that exact moment, the shot manages to draw a bridge to Denis’ debut film Chocolat, a film that like White Material was also shot in Cameroon and starred Isaach De Bankolé as well. The young childhood memories of a girl in Chocolat are set against the backdrop of the final days of French colonialism while White Material is set in contemporary Africa against the backdrop of a civil war which is threatening to disintegrate the country. Both films manage to cover a few decades not only of Cameroon’s timeline but also of a few West African countries by extension. The flashback sequences of Chocolat are set in WWII when French colonialism was about to end so the film shows a critical period of transition, when power was finally about to be transferred back to African hands. Chocolat starts off in 1988 Cameroon while White Material is also set in a modern West African country (Cameroon is not named though the film was shot there) and depicts a nation on the verge of collapse. Both films show Africa in a period of transition and even though there are chaotic events which are threatening to overtake everything, Denis integrates enough silent moments in both films which convey a sense of dignity.

Intimate moments and fantasies

L’Intrus, Beau Travail and White Material are shot outside of France and cover a wide array of topics ranging from memories, desire, international crime (illegal heart transplant in L’Intrus), racism, power, political scheming, colonialism and war. On the other hand, Friday Night and Nénette et Boni are smaller scale films shot in Paris and Marseille respectively and feature more intimate moments as the camera narrows onto just a few characters. Friday Night is the only film out of the five confined to a narrow amount of space as the camera is mostly set either inside a car or in a hotel room observing two bodies. Nénette et Boni draws the camera up close when needed but it also pulls back to observe the characters in their moment of misery or joy. At first it was a bit underwhelming to approach Friday Night and Nénette et Boni after seeing the other three visually rich global films but those feelings subsided when I got involved observing the characters closely.

Friday Night features mainly two characters who engage in a one-night stand after a traffic jam in Paris brings them together. The female character is portrayed as someone who is trapped in the film either physically in the car or in a mental cage but she is able to find liberation because of her chance encounter.

Nénette et Boni is a tender story about two siblings who spent most of their lives apart because of their parents divorce. However, when Nénette (Alice Houri) is pregnant, she seeks out her brother Boni (Grégoire Colin) for support. At first, Boni is a bit distant but eventually he warms up to Nénette and looks after her in a loving manner. Denis wonderfully blends Boni’s fantasies about the baker’s wife (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) beautifully within the film’s fabric thereby adding a bit more sensual flavour to the film. A big surprize is seeing Vincent Gallo play the role of the baker.

Similar Names & New Associations

Grégoire Colin is only absent from White Material but is a visible presence in four of the other films. He is the Boni in Nénette et Boni and is a force to reckon with in Beau Travail but only manages a few moments of screen time in L’Intrus and Friday Night. On the other hand, Michel Subor is present in White Material, Beau Travail and L’Intrus.

Agnès Godard was the cinematographer in all but White Material while Nelly Quettier was the editor in three of the films excluding White Material and Nénette et Boni.

Tindersticks, either as a group or via its individual members Stuart A. Staples or Dickon Hinchliffe, are a continuous association in all but Beau Travail. Stuart A. Staples provided the mesmerizing solo score for White Material and L’Intrus while Tindersticks handled the score for Nénette et Boni and Dickon Hinchliffe worked on Friday Night. The collected music box-set by Tindersticks for Denis’ films features these four films and also includes 35 Shots of Rum.

Claire Denis returned to Cameroon to shoot White Material almost two decades after she shot her debut feature Chocolat there but it seems that White Material features many new associations for her, especially by working with Yves Cape as the cinematographer for the first time and finally working with Isabelle Huppert. It seems almost incredible to think that Huppert and Denis, two French women who are clearly among the best in the world in their respective fields, took this long to work with each other but thankfully the association happened.


If I had to subjectively rate the five films out of 10, this is how they would stack up:

L’Intrus (2004): 10
White Material (2009): 9
Beau Travail (1999): 9
Nénette et Boni (1996): 8
Friday Night (2002): 7

Le Quattro Volte

Michelangelo Frammartino’s remarkable debut film uses an unnamed town in Calabria as an observatory to examine the metaphysical circle of life. The film’s title is translated to “Four Times” and comes from Pythagoras’ belief that a soul passes through four phases from human to animal to vegetable to mineral. Frammartino’s film is thus accordingly broken up into four distinct parts which are clearly separated by visual cues. The first part features an aging goat herder troubled by a persistent cough. The herder’s medicinal cure for the cough is quite unorthodox but is in keeping with the film’s metaphysical theme. One day the herder misplaces his medicine and that leads to a worsening of his health thereby preventing him from tending to his goats. Chaos takes place after a hilarious sequence involving a delivery truck and a guard dog results in the herder's goats having freedom to take over the town. The birth of a goat ushers the film’s second part, the funniest and heartfelt of all the four parts. The baby goat’s journey paves the path for the final two phases of the film which feature a tree and a steaming heap of charcoal.

Le Quattro Volte is a visually stunning film that packs each frame with plenty of incidents which are flushed out in more details later on, such as the purpose of the wooden cross and the delivery truck. The delivery truck plays a key role in the story and the contents of its delivery in the finale complete the circle of life. The cues to mark the beginning of each phase are smartly integrated in the film thereby keeping the story flowing smoothly. Also, the rich usage of sound coupled with the smart visuals hardly make one notice the absence of dialogues in the film. The few scattered inaudible words blend perfectly in the background sound and enhance the film watching experience.

Le Quattro Volte rightly won the Director’s Fortnight prize in Cannes 2010 as Frammartino is one of the best directors to have emerged in recent years. It is a must-see film that is easily one of the best films this year.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Terrence Malick Spotlight

I decided to catch up with Terrence Malick’s first two films and revisit his third and fourth features while waiting for the eventual release of The Tree of Life. So now that I have seen all five of Malick's features within a period of few months, it felt appropriate to finally write some notes.

Badlands (1973)
Days of Heaven (1978)
The Thin Red Line (1998)
The New World (2005)
The Tree of Life (2011)

Journey across America, in space and time

Malick starts off in 1950s America in Badlands but quickly travels across the country as the film progresses, continues traveling across the nation in Days of Heaven (albeit shot in beautiful Alberta, Canada),

hops across the Pacific Ocean in A Thin Red Line before washing up on the shores of America again in The New World but arriving a few centuries back in time. Tree of Life starts off in America in the same decade as Badlands but manages to travel all the way back in time to the origins of the universe and also travels further in time to a futuristic America. In a sense, all five of Malick’s films constitute a circular journey where the starting and ending point is America but his American journey manages to easily navigate across time and space as well.

Fiction or Reality

Badlands was inspired by the real life killing spree of Starkweather-Fugate, The New World had elements of Pocahontas while the The Thin Red Line was based on James Jones' novel set in the island of Guadalcanal during World War II. Given that there has been speculation that Tree of Life might have some autobiographical elements means that Days of Heaven might be the only inspiration free film. Of course, given that Malick manages to give each film such a distinctive touch, it does not matter where his source comes because he can elevate a story into a much more grander scale.

Love and Compassion vs Violence

A love story kicks off the journey in Badlands while love is also at the core of Days of Heaven and The New World. Tree of Life features the most pure form of love which is that between a parent and a child. The film also features many moments of compassion, none more so vivid than when the stronger dinosaur decides to spare the life of a fallen dinosaur. Even though The Thin Red Line features bloody killing and focuses on a war, which is something that signals a complete failure of love and humanity, Malick still manages to infuse the film with quite a few moments of compassion and concern for fellow man. James Caviezel's character is the film’s moral compass and the one character capable of showing love.

All the films also depict violence. The body count steadily increases as Badlands goes on while an accidentally killing at the start of Days of Heaven results in the main characters fleeing the city. There are plenty of violent moments in The Thin Red Line and The New World while The Tree of Life shows that violence is always just one push or leg stomp away.

By balancing the violence with moments of love and compassion, Malick is able to present balanced works that evoke larger questions about human nature in general.

Constant movement

The only film out of the five that does not have much flowing camera movement is Badlands which consists mainly of a static array of shots. That is not to stay that there is no movement shown in Badlands but the movement is signified by following the characters in a moving car or a pan across the landscape as the two characters are on their journey. While in the other films, the camera seems to have more freedom to explore and probe the surroundings around a character. The Tree of Life of course gives the camera the greatest degree of freedom to fly around the characters, hover over them, dive down low or zip to a corner in the room. The camera even moves back in time where it patiently captures the big bang. Such brilliant movements manage to elevate all of Malick’s films from a conventional story into a much more alive tale of love and suffering.

Narrator, guide

Young female characters narrate the first two Malick film while adult males provide the voice-over in the next three films. The New World features some narration by a female but it is Captain Smith’s (Colin Farrell) voice that dominates. The Tree of Life features a distinct male narration but a female voice-over can be heard as well. However, the five films differ in the type of narration. The narration in Badlands and Days of Heaven is mostly recounting of events mixed with some thoughts and observances. However, the narration in The Thin Red Line and The New World borders on the poetic and contains words that probe for a deeper meaning. The words in The Tree of Life are probably the most direct religious invocation.


"In the morning, we will chop down every tree within half a mile of the moorage, and use the straightest limbs to erect a line of watchtowers and to build our fort." Captain Newport, The New World

Nature plays a big part in all of Malick’s films and with the exception of Days of Heaven, it seems a tree is always present. There are plenty of trees to be found in The Thin Red Line and The New World with the river tributaries in the map of America in the opening credits of The New World looking like trees. A fallen tree is seen in Badlands

and a similar fallen tree immersed in water is visible in The New World as well. The final shot of The New World is that of a tree so maybe that provides a clue to Malick's next feature. Of course, a tree gets top billing in The Tree of Life and there are indeed some tree sightings in the film.

5 down, what’s next?

So what’s next for Malick? Will there be films released by him in 2012 and 2013? People can speculate as much as they want but as the case with The Tree of Life showed, Malick will only let the world see his new film when he is ready. There were quite a few people who dismissed Cannes in 2010 because they could not get past the idea that “the Malick film” was not there. So naturally these people assumed that Cannes had rejected his film. The next round of speculation arose that Malick’s film would show up either at Venice or Toronto 2010 and when that did not happen, the clock was set for Cannes 2011. And as soon as the film was announced for Cannes 2011, it was assumed it would win the top prize. The film did indeed win at Cannes and thankfully the film’s release date was already decided prior to Cannes. So that meant the film was quickly rolled out to theaters across North America in weeks following its Cannes premier meaning there was atleast one worthy film to watch in a multiplex in the summer time period. It would have been pure torture if Tree of Life was instead scheduled to hit North America screens in the fall of 2011.

An Animated World

Every year for a few weeks I set aside films and books and instead focus exclusively on reading graphic novels. The experience is always enriching and leaves me in complete awe of the fascinating direction some writers have taken graphic novels in. While there are still plenty of stories about super heroes, vampires, zombie and noir crime, there are an equally increasing number of works which are journalistic travelogues, memoirs or just a creative spin on genres. This year, I was lucky enough to come across some excellent works and here are some brief words on my haul for 2011:

Norway -- What I did by Jason

What I Did is a pure gem from Norway and I only came across it thanks to the owner of Frosst Books who recommended it. The collection consists of three stories with two of them being black and white. The second of these black and white stories is without any dialogues and appropriately labeled "Sshhhh". It is this silent story that is the best of the trio and manages to convey plenty of emotion and depth without any words. The story revolves around a homeless man who encounters the woman of his dreams and settles down with her. Unfortunately, agents of death take the woman away before her time and the man is left to fend off death who is constantly following him. In the next phase of the story, a man has a fling with a woman leading to a child. In just a few pages, an entire lifetime of emotion between father and son is shown eventually leading to the son parting ways when he grows up as an adult.

The entire graphic novel is beautifully drawn with simple and uncomplicated sketches. Also, the usage of space in each panel has produced a work of great depth that leaves plenty of material to ponder over. For example, in just a few panels a sexual encounter is described perfectly. A woman enters a train compartment where she eyes the man. The two of them move closer. The next panel shows the train heading into a tunnel with the next two panels painted completed in black. The train is shown to emerge from the tunnel followed by a panel which shows the man and woman on opposite ends of the seat, buttoning up their shirts. Given how many comics and graphic novels are packed with needless witty dialogues, Jason proves that in the hands of a good artist, a picture can speak volumes.

Canada -- The Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle

I sought out The Burma Chronicles on the strength of Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea which is a witty humorous graphic novel that recounts Delisle’s time in North Korea and his keen observance of the country’s culture and customs. The Burma Chronicles contains the same humor style and is a pure delight to read. This time around Delisle travels to Burma with his wife and baby and as a result, the book also contains some relevant challenges that arise due to family travel and everything is rendered perfectly with thoughtful panels.

Mexico -- Son of the Gun by Alejandro Jodorowsky

It was a real discovery to find that Alejandro Jodorowsky is also an active graphic novelist and has many collections to his name. Of the many stories available, I opted for Son of the Gun, a volume set against the backdrop of a corrupt Mexican political world. The story starts off with a baby abandoned at birth because of his abnormality in the form of tail. As the child grows up, so does the tail but despite that handicap the growing youngster is able to find his way in the world. The boy grows up to be a mercenary working in the mafia before eventually climbing the rungs of power. However, there are some nasty suprizes that lie in store for him especially regarding the identity of people close to him. Overall, this is a fast moving gripping tale which is beautifully illustrated with some eye-catching sketches.

Shades of War

It Was The War of the Trenches by Jacques Tardi (France)

Tardi’s incredible graphic novel gives a vivid account of life in the trenches during wartime. The illustrations show the suffering and agony that soldiers faced in adverse conditions while trying to fight off an unseen enemy. This work is a perfect example of how graphic novels are creatively moving in new directions and producing work that leaves a lasting emotional impact on the reader.

A short sample of the work is available online.

Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

If Tardi’s graphic novel depicts the horrifying memories that are created due to war, then Waltz with Bashir is about the suppression of such memories of war. Ari Folman’s film contains plenty of memorable images so it was essential to visit the creative source of those images in Folman and Polonsky’s graphic novel. Reading the graphic novel only increases my admiration for the film because the cinematic work is able to transfer the haunting essence of the graphic novel perfectly.

Shooting War by Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman

Lappe and Goldman’s work not only has plenty of political bite to it but it also highlights the media circus that can be associated with wars. Also, a few panels in the graphic novel reminded me of Richard Kelly's Southland Tales.

Shooting War exists in a web comic form.

War is Boring by David Axe and Matt Bors

If Shooting War shows adrenalin fueled journalists who rush into war zones and put themselves in the line of war, War is Boring is about the moments of silence that precede such chaotic scenes of war. The book provides snippets from David Axe’s journeys to some of the world’s hotspots and is a short quick read and comes across as an appetizer instead of a full course meal.

Israel -- Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

A young woman soldier approaches Koby to tell him that his father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing attack. Koby is clearly skeptical but when he cannot get hold of his father, he travels with the woman across the country to find either his missing father or his father’s body. In the course of his journey, he discovers many secrets about his father leading him to question whether he ever knew his father. Exit Wounds is smartly paced and chooses its words perfectly. As a result, the graphic novel is an engrossing read packed with some touches of humor and sharp cultural observances.

Eastern Europe -- Market Day by James Sturm

A wonderful story about how a man cannot adapt to the changing times when he finds that there is no longer a market for his fine hand crafted rugs. To make matters worse, the man is going to be a father soon and needs the income for his future family. Market Day is set in decades long gone but the story can easily apply to modern scenarios where people’s products are priced out of a market or the market’s demand for a product shrinks down.

Sweden -- From the Shadow of the Northern Lights, an anthology of Swedish Alternative Comics, Volume 1

I had never read any comic books from Sweden yet nothing could have prepared me this Galago book. The collection features a range of works from relationship stories, political satire, sexual tales, humorous shorts to dark and bizarre tales. The work also serves as a springboard to further explore individual artists.

Brazil -- De:Tales by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, Stories from Urban Brazil

As per the title, the stories are indeed all urban and if Brazil was not mentioned in the book’s title, one would be hard pressed to ever think the characters lived in Brazil. The stories are mostly about one-night stands, love and relationships, with atleast half the stories taking place in clubs/bars. There are some interesting aspects but most of the stories do not leave a lasting impression. The best story in the collection is the last one which is a beautiful wordless tale.

Noir with a twist -- Tumor by Joshua Fialkov and Noel Tuazon

Frank Armstrong, a washed up aging private investigator, goes out to find the missing daughter of a drug lord but in classic noir fashion he finds himself dragged into a larger mess. Things are complicated by the fact that Frank has a tumor in the back of his head which leads to either temporary memory loss or transplants memories from his past into the present. As a result, Frank is battling constantly with himself even for the simple act of trying to cross the road. So when gangsters, corrupts cops, guns and plenty of blood are added to the mix, it leaves Frank fighting a solitary uphill battle.

The book’s introduction by Duane Swierczynski makes a wonderful point about the origins of Frank’s tumor. Duane mentions one of the common elements found in noir tales is when a detective gets a sharp blow to the head leading to a temporary state of unconsciousness. But what if a lifetime of such blows to the head led to a more serious problem? In a sense, Tumor is a response to such a question.

Note: It was remarkable to find out this incredible beautiful work by Archaia books was first a digital only book. I have not read the digital edition but I doubt that it can match the visual beauty of the sharp black and white pictures bound in a hardcover copy.

Future reading

There are quite a few more graphic novels to be read still, including my first ever Italian graphic novel -- Silent Dance by Matteo Casali, Grazia Lobaccaro and Alessandro DeAngelis.

Silent Dance will most likely be pushed onto the pile of reading for 2012 where I hope to find some more titles from other countries.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hong Sang-soo Spotlight

When I started digging for Korean films 6-7 years ago, the name of Hong Sang-soo came up quite often. Unfortunately, I could not find a single one of his films available on DVD. As each subsequent year went by, I read about another Hong Sang-soo film showing at a far away film festival but none of those titles ever landed in any local cinema. Finally in 2008, an opening emerged when Videomatica in Vancouver carried his Woman is the Future of Man and I was able to end my Hong Sang-soo drought.
I expected the flood gates to open and an a gush of his films to appear but it was not to be. Then remarkably in 2010, I was lucky enough to see a hat-trick of his films starting with Like You Know It All, HaHaHa and finishing off with Oki’s Movie seen on the final day of TIFF 2010.
Now after seeing Hong Sang-soo’s Paris based Night and Day recently, I have managed to see five out of his 12 features to date. So some comments and notes on his features are long overdue.

Eat, Drink, Talk, Man, Woman

All the five features have some form of a gathering where men and women sit down at a table, share a meal and drink plenty of drinks, be it soju or beer. The conversations flow effortlessly among all gathered although the alcohol serves as a lubrication to assist in those fluid words. The alcohol also eases the feelings of those people to pour their heart out or to reveal too much about their hidden feelings thereby putting themselves in an awkward position. These five features show that no matter what hidden thought or feeling a character has, it will be placed out in the open for all to reflect on. In fact, a character could have committed a questionable act years ago and forgotten about it but it will always come back to haunt them. There is no place for the characters to hide and they have to walk with their shame painted invisibly on their faces after their alcoholic infused confession. Night and Day manages to escape from the structure of these life changing social gatherings because the only damage that comes from such a food/drink gathering in the film is regarding a reference towards North Korea and does not get the main character into too much trouble. However, in the other four films the social gatherings have to do with either a woman, issues of the heart or a person’s artistic accomplishments. Such topics are emotionally charged so naturally when characters have their tongues loosened, it leads to a far more damaging effect.

Structure & Framework

Hong Sang-soo’s recent features may give the appearance of familiarity because of elements of love, relationship, drinks, memory and conversations. In the last few features he has used the same technique of abrupt zooms and divided the films into different chapters or four short films as in the case of Oki’s Movie. Flashbacks are also a critical part of these movies as the story cuts from the present to the past as characters reminisce about their past loves and hopes while feeling a bit down in the present. However, despite all these familiar elements, each film is still crafted in a unique mould with each character and story standing on its own.

In a sense, the five features do not cover a wide array of brew styles ranging from a lager to a stout but merely alter the hop count found in an IPA. Depending on how hoppy an IPA is, one can either experience a fragrant aroma and taste or have a bitter hoppy experience. So Hong Sang-soo is barely tweaking the recipe of his own created IPA and coming up with new subtle flavours. Some creations are a bit more bitter than others while some contain a sweet aftertaste. On top of that, the honesty of the characters and the awkward situations they find themselves in does not feel like scripted cinema but instead seems like something born from a personal experience. Yet, it could all be down to Hong Sang-soo’s ability that he is able to craft films which ooze with real and breathing characters who exhibit none of the conventional stereotypical templates others movies impose on characters. His films manage to weave wit, humor and sarcasm seamlessly while providing enough for viewers to put together their own version of the character’s lives.

Other essential reading

David Bordwell has an amazing piece regarding the structure and narrative style of Oki’s Movie and HaHaHa.

Marc Raymond has some great reviews about Oki’s Movie and HaHaHa.

Quintin’s remarkable piece on Like You Know It All does indicate an autobiographical element to that film.