In Korean with English subtitles, with Min Hee Kim.
A young woman sits in a cafe eavesdropping on the other customers. She sits quietly in the corner, typing on her laptop computer. The other customers have serious conversations about their lives, and there are not one not two but three suicides under discussion. Or is it one suicide, played out three different ways? The main idea is that people need each other, and are made up of very strong emotions, and the people who share them blend into each other in a big disharmonious mess.
Some of the customers, none of whom has a name, scream at each other. We don’t learn exactly what happened to precipitate the melodrama, but that is the point. The observer in the corner, the fly on the wall, has to figure that out for herself because she is writing a screenplay, or the screenplay is about a screenplay.
The black and white photography of the main actors is crucial. Each couple is framed in a medium closeup with individuals in profile, except on occasion when the camera moves away from the two, and focuses in on one. In one of the conversations a woman does the lion’s share of the talking, and the man we only see from behind his right ear. This could be irritating in less than sure hands, but Hong has cut his teeth on this kind of close observation. Only at the very end did I grow tired of the slightly out of focus shot of the surrounding area around the cafe where most of the action takes place.
Min Hee Kim who plays the eavesdropper is a remarkable actress. She just keeps drawing you in, making you wonder who she really is. The simplicity of the screenplay, where she is mostly just observing , and writing her thoughts on what she is overhearing, is enough. But when she leaves the cafe and hangs out with her brother for a moment, and is antagonistic to his fiance, we learn more about her temperament, and we seem to be exiting the world of the screenplay and entering real life.
I have grown tired of movies that are a bit too long. The ease of filming with digital technology, compared to cinematography with film, has drawn filmmakers to shoot too much, to include scenes they should have edited out. This is one thing I loved about this movie: its brevity. Brevity stands in for discipline, for including only the things needed to tell the story, not that there is a story yet, but the movie is about someone trying to make sense of the world around her.
The soundtrack however, was really bothersome. In the cafe, one patron notes that the owner who is never seen but remarked upon for his good manners and gentlemanly behavior, likes to play classical music. Unfortunately, the songs used are often those used for famous ballets, and distracted me from the main scene playing out in front of me, and made me visualize the great ballet dancers I have seen perform to this music. I remembered Peter Martins, and Baryshnikov, and Suzanne Farrell, dancing. Then Pachelbel’s Canon would play. Or some other chestnut so loud that it practically drowned out the dialogue of the actors.
But I came away thinking highly of the director, and his muse, the actress, who I had last seen in Claire’s Camera, with Isabelle Huppert. There were many similar scenes in that movie, of two people, just sitting across from each other, talking to each other about things that really matter. How unusual and profound is that. There are so many people walking down the street, gazing into their phones, that this movie was a welcome relief, and reminded me of how important it is to reach out and really connect.