“The Novelist’s Film,” reviewed: A wildly cheerful director’s artistic crisis drama | Catch My Job


This Friday, South Korean director Hong Sangsu’s “The Novelist Film,” opens at Film A at Lincoln Center, weeks after it screened at the New York Film Festival. It is his third film to release here this year and one of two to be screened at the festival. (The other, “Walk Up,” is slated for release in 2023.) He has been the most popular major director in recent years, with fifteen features since 2013. Yet “The Novelist’s Film” is a story of artistic creation built on fallen soil, a drama of crisis and lethargy—a drama of what it takes, personally and artistically, to reinvent oneself amid doubt and despair.

It is a peculiar form of bitter confession, and depends on the circumstances underlying its origin. A secret of the French New Wave, usually (and wrongly) tied only to the cult of the director, was the emphasis on production. From the beginning, its young luminaries recognized that the art of cinema involved something more fundamental than creative control—namely, the control of time and money, the administrative and technical processes of filmmaking. They discovered that, while understanding and personalizing the “how” of film, its “what”—the art—would follow. Hong did just that with a quiet vengeance. What he did as part of a mid-career transition in 2008 is even more remarkable, as he approaches fifty. Until then, he had worked within the local film industry and, starting relatively late as a director (in the middle of his decade), made eight films in twelve years. Starting with “Like You Know It All” in 2009, Hong developed a system of his own, and this is what made him so big: he collected little money (that movie cost a hundred thousand dollars) and quickly worked on characters and small The cast of the crew. (Hong has a crew of three credited for “The Novelist’s Film”—himself as producer, director, writer, cinematographer, editor, and even its music composer; Kim Min-hee, an actress in the film, and her partner, as production manager. ; and Seo Ji-hoon, who recorded the sound.) Hong also created a style—or, rather, expanded, exaggerated, and refined the style of his earlier films—that both suited his material situation and offered the cinematic world a more convenient and Focus mode of expression.

“The Novelist’s Film” is, for starters, a story of its casting The novelist in question, Kim Joon-hee, plays Lee Hye-young, a famous actress of the nineteen-eighties and nineties who had been in very few films this century before joining Hong for “In Front of Your Face” (2021 ). His appearance and his performance in that film gave it and his cinema a jolt. He and Hong are of the same generation (born in 1962 and 1960 respectively), and along with his quietly acting lead presence, his public persona offers Hong ready material for grand drama: his character in “In Front of Your Face” after a long absence. Personal and professional returns of sorts and the film, though largely of a piece with his later efforts, reaches tragic heights unusual in his (or anyone’s) film. In “The Novelist’s Film,” too, the symbolic power of Lee’s personality plays an important role in the drama.

Joon-hee, novelist turned filmmaker, plans to model a movie on the actors he collects. “The novelist’s film” is a story of filmmaking, then, but first it is a story of encounter: of personal and artistic connection between desire and opportunity, between activity and passivity. Joon-hee travels to a town outside Seoul to visit a long-lost friend (Seo Yong-hwa), a writer (whose name is never heard) who now owns a small bookstore and cafe that is also a local artistic gathering place. Jun-hee is an acclaimed writer; The bookstore owner’s young assistant (Park Mi-soo) recognizes him at once. The bookstore owner stopped writing long ago and went out of town without talking to friends; He is practically in hiding and is frustrated that his position is leaked in literary circles. It soon becomes clear why Joon-hee made the trip: He himself, despite a long and celebrated career, has hit a falling patch, lost his purpose in writing, and doubts whether he will even write again. He has, in effect, gone to see what life is like after writing for a former writer.

Short answer: It doesn’t look good. The first thing Joon-hee finds in the bookstore is the pettiness, the gossip, the conflict of running a small business. But he discovers a stronger, deeper and more powerful current in the space of a day in the provincial town – one that flows beneath the surface of the artists’ frozen lives. The shopkeeper’s assistant is a thirty-three-year-old former theater student who has given up acting. At a park, Joon-hee has a chance meeting with a filmmaker she knows, Park Hyo-jin (Kwan Hae-hyo), and what she thinks is a commercial sale. He also meets Kil-soo (Kim Min-hee), a famous actress who has stopped acting (they know each other), and who is hanging out with her nephew Gyeong-woo (Ha Seong-guk), a movie star. the student That encounter sparks an instant friendship between Joon-hee and Kil-soo, prompting the novelist to announce his long-held desire to make a film, for which he hires Kil-soo and her husband, a potter, for a short shoot. Hopefully, with Gyeong-woo’s technical support. This instant bond leads to another chance meeting with a veteran poet (Ki Joo-bong) and former “drinking buddy,” whose bombastic ego swells to fill his artistic self-image.

In short, the artistic world Joon-hee finds in this small town far from the metropolis is a personal problem and need that takes the place of art. He moves through this small world like a star, albeit an unintentional one, whose public image intensifies and complicates his relationships, both new and renewed. He lets loose with a glorious rant against the commercial filmmaker, who scorns his talent as a “garbage” of Kil-sur. He finds himself admired for his “charisma” by many people he meets and, although he shrugs off the compliment, he soon discovers what it means: it is the essence of art but translated into the terms of everyday life, practical power. which attracts other people to help turn his ideas into reality.

He has an idea for making a film – sketching a simple, everyday story but closely modeling it on the personalities of his actors, who have to be people he feels a connection with. Spoiler alert: He makes the film, and it’s here that Hong casts the entire movie in “The Novelist’s Film” in an ironic light of his own artistic endeavours. He shows some footage from Joon-hee’s film, and it’s catchy, lyrical, emotional; it. . ok? But this does not suggest the originality of Joon-hee’s cinematic ideas. Besides the intensity of the relationship — and the hard work — that spawned it, it’s anticlimactic.

The focus of Hong’s film, however, is not Joon-hee’s film, but her portrayal of this relationship, in a way that is exemplary of her later style. It lies within a handful of scenes of extended dialogue, mainly with a still frame (sometimes punctuated with some zooms and pans), in which characters express depth of feeling and experience with a trivial and casual complexity. The seemingly simple realism of Hong’s work is a distilled and rarefied approach, built around quietly subtle and sharp visual compositions that simultaneously highlight brilliant performances of precision and freedom. Moreover, Hong’s emphasis on the extraordinary emotions of ordinary encounters and discussions yields and conceals a sense of his crafty, highly constructed form—he builds his seemingly simple stories around skips, gaps, leaps and dreams and imaginations, alternate narratives, and rearrangements of time. . The “novelist’s film” is straightforwardly chronological and naturalistic, but that does not make its reflection on the nature of film, both intellectual and practical, any less complex or sophisticated. As a filmmaker, Hong is a walking infrastructure, a methodical person whose experience is naturally crystallized in cinematic form; With no such infrastructure, Joon-hee, for all the reinvigorated energy of her new adventure, steps out into a cinematic limbo, a cinematic void. The novelist’s film is, after all, material for the novelist’s later novel—and “the novelist’s film.” ♦


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