Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2022 9:10 pm 
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Turning to another medium in a dry spell

In this latest variation on his themes of revolving encounters, drinking and talking and self-reflective examinations of the creative life and the vagaries of relations between the sexes, Hong Sang-soo introduces Junhee (Lee Hyeyoung), a well known and once prolific woman novelist who has become unable to write. We find her arrived on a trip away from Seoul to a small town to visit a woman friend (Seo Young-hwa) who, unbeknownst to many, according to her, is now running a bookstore (also a cafe and local gathering place). She is herself a writer whose well seems to have run dry; in fact that seems to be why Junhee has come to seek her out. Here the novelist also encounters Gyeongwoo (Ha Seong-guk), a young film student who knows and admires her very much. She also, at a modern lookout tower, meets Hyojin (Kwon Haehyo), a director she seems not to think much of, who it turns out had intended to adapt one of her novels, till the project was squelched due to lack of funding. She is unimpressed.

After several chance meetings, Junhee winds up lunching with Kilsoo (Hong's muse and partner Kim Minhee), a well-known actress who claims to be fed up with the thespian life. Junhee has not met Kilsoo before but loves and admires her work, as Kilsoo loves and admires Juhhee's.

So it is that sitting there Junhee gets the idea of trying her hand at cinema, for the first time making a short film that she proposes will star Kilsoo, with the aid of Gyeongwoo, an idea to which Kilsoo somewhat tentatively agrees. It won’t be like other films. It will be the novelist’s film. Ir at least so runs the festival blurb: novelists have been known to dive into movie-making, but the idea may be new in Hong's world.

The action here, not for the first time in this director, is meandering and sociable. It involves people meeting old friends, or persons they have long admired, and finding ways to spend time with them in different groupings that fill up the whole day. Sociability that might seem more time-wasting for artistic people in dry spells, is seen here as necessary and restorative and leading to ideas. There is also a warm plug for the joys of reading, but only what one really likes. At a group drinking scene at the bookstore after Junhee has made friends with Kilsoo over a ramen lunch, the novelist finds herself next to a bewhiskered older poet, Mansoo (Gi Joo-bong), whom she used to drink with, too much, she thinks now, but he totally disagrees. (There is some cultural discomfort in hearing the way drinking is mindlessly extolled as a good in itself in Hong's films.) Everybody should drink a lot sometimes, says the washed up poet. Kilsoo drinks so much she falls asleep.

It appears the only character who is clearly not going through a creative dry period is the film student, Gyeongwoo - and maybe the bookseller's assistant, a shy young adept at sign language (Park Miso). Gyeongwoo however is a useful mechanism rather than one of the interesting, sympathized-with characters. There is a plethora of characters this time, but in exchange the chronology is more linear than usual except for a leap forward at the end with an excerpt from the completed short film.

Great admirers of Hong tend to like nearly everything he does and the New York Film Festival twice in a row has included two new Hong films in their annual Main Slate. But in this film the thrill is not as much there as in Hong at his best. Nonetheless the central idea is nice: a whole gathering of artistic types out of ideas or suffering creative blocks happens partly deliberately and partly by chance one day, with the result that two of them collaborate together with the essential help of a young man with a camera to make a short film, starring the actress, written and directed by the novelist.

This interesting but less that top-tier effort is marred by a repetitiousness in the dialogue in the way characters in various combinations fawn on each other, alternately gushing vague and sweeping compliments or giddily giving thanks for them. Could there not have been at least one character who is sarcastic or niggling with praise? Or are there bat squeaks of disapproval or jealousy lost in the subtitles?

One returns to a favorite idea expressed by the celebrated American abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, that an artist's less successful works are necessary stepping stones to the good ones.

The Novelist's Film 소설가의 영화, debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 15, 2022, winning the second-place Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, also showing in over two dozen other international festivals, including Taipei, Toronto, Busan and New York. French title: La Romancière, le film et le heureux hasard. Metacritic rating: 82%.

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