“In Front of Your Face,” Reviewed: The Great Hong Sangsoo Reaches New Heights

Even the best administrators generally depend on cliché to dispense data swiftly, and it’s all of the extra tempting for filmmakers whose work is spare and condensed, such because the South Korean director Hong Sang-soo. In a classic-era Hollywood film, when characters discreetly cough, it’s a certain guess that they’re dying of tuberculosis; in his new movie “In Front of Your Face,” Hong makes use of this trope within the very first scene. His protagonist, Sangok (Lee Hye-young), a middle-aged former actress who has returned to her house city of Seoul after a few years away, gently clutches her abdomen in ache. Spoiler alert: she is gravely in poor health. Sangok’s return is a terminal one, and her each go to, tour, and encounter has the emotional and symbolic energy of finality. The overwhelming thriller of life within the presence of demise evokes Hong to new heights of imaginative inspiration, and divulges all of the extra clearly the essence of his artistry.

To match the existential stakes of the motion, Hong ratchets up the dramatic stress with a race in opposition to time, squeezing virtually the entire movie’s motion into the span of a single morning and afternoon. Sangok’s first reunion is along with her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee), from whom she has lengthy been estranged. Sangok stays on Jeongok’s couch, in a contemporary high-rise condominium, however the siblings know virtually nothing of one another’s lives. Jeongok even encourages her sister, who has been dwelling for years in america, to purchase an condominium close by—which is to say, she has no concept that Sangok is dying. The secret packs nice pressure, as Jeongok leads Sangok on a leisurely spherical of strolls and visits that, for the actress, nearly shriek with urgency. They go to Jeongok’s grown son, Seungwon (Shin Seok-ho), at his rice-cake store, the place she samples a few of his wares. It’s a trademark of Hong’s artwork that an infinitesimal element—a small stain of sauce on Sangok’s shirt—emerges as each a plot level and a serious image, a cinematic metaphor that develops grander implications because the drama progresses.

Sangok’s most vital reunion is with the cinema itself. She has scheduled a lunch assembly with a youthful film director (and a longtime fan of hers) named Track Jaewon (Kwon Hae-hyo), who needs to direct a film that might be her return to the display. (Hong’s casting is poignant, too: the sleek and radiant Lee, a star within the early nineties, has executed few motion pictures lately.) Sangok’s journey to satisfy Jaewon takes her close to the home the place she and her sister grew up, summoning a mighty rush of recollections that impose themselves with a seemingly bodily energy.

Sangok’s assembly with Jaewon is the middle of the movie, each dramatically and spiritually. In a skein of dialogues that runs greater than a half hour lengthy, set in and round an in any other case empty café, Sangok confronts and defies mortality by means of her creative vocation and artistic ardour. In the time she has left, she needs to embody a ultimate model of herself in artwork—however she additionally needs to get some enjoyment out of life. Right here, Hong gives up a bitterly ironic view of the world of films, virtually an Eastwood-esque morality play during which the best hazard that artwork poses to an artist is demagogy—the usage of fame for private acquire, reasonably than within the curiosity of the work itself.

With “In Front of Your Face,” Hong glories within the work itself—within the energy of the cinema. Inside the spare intimacy of his confrontational, conversational drama, he gives a number of outstanding twists of cinematic kind to be able to entry the huge interior dimensions of Sangok’s native adventures and encounters, together with moments that waver ambiguously between fantasy and actuality. He makes use of the only of subjective units, inner monologue, to sharp impact. Sangok’s inside reflections are jewels of metaphysical ardor, prayers minus faith and God, and in intimate dialogue with Jaewon she offers fuller voice to her non secular quest, which can also be an aesthetic one: she strives to keep away from ideas of the previous and future to be able to keep focussed on the current. She needs to see what’s in entrance of her face, as she says, as a result of that’s the place “Heaven is hiding.”

Such a must see is on the core of Hong’s personal creative observe. The prolific director’s work since 2009 has yielded nineteen low-budget impartial options, and all show a particular, unique, and unified model that gives a taut framework for sharply expressed feelings and intricately developed concepts: lengthy dialogue scenes executed in prolonged takes, with few digital camera strikes and parsed by zooms out and in. His method entails a type of deliberate spontaneity, during which he composes scenes and dialogue day after day and gives them to his actors in the midst of the shoot. The most radical facet of his work, although, isn’t in these practices and figures of fashion. It’s in what they reveal: his understanding of the essence of speaking footage and the distinctive aesthetic energy of a dialogue-rich movie.

When silent movies gave option to speaking footage, the artwork of cinema attained the prospect of neutrality, albeit a kind of armed and tense neutrality. By letting the dialogue bear a lot of the load of dramatic expression, and by restraining the picture to a quasi-documentary recording that’s nonetheless fastidiously composed, administrators turned minor fluctuations of framings, glances, gestures, rhythms, settings, and moods into mighty occasions of thunderous emotional impact. With “In Front of Your Face,” Hong finds new dimensions for his longstanding recognitions: of the nice affect of refined variations and obsessive repetitions, of the paradox of narrative ambiguities and imaginative fantasies that come up from scenes of spare and meticulous realism, of grand symbolism rising from banal observations. Hong, doing his personal cinematography, brings tiny particulars—such because the meals stain on Sangok’s shirt—to life with an intensified artwork of reserved refinement.

A lot of Hong’s movies are in black-and-white; even those which are in colour are hardly memorably so. However “In Front of Your Face” makes brash and splashy use of colour, from Sangok’s pink nightshirt and the Lego-like palette of Jeongok’s condominium advanced to, above all, the dominant swaths of vibrant and deep inexperienced within the foliage that appears to observe Sangok all through, whether or not in public parks or non-public gardens or panoramic landscapes—and even indoors. In its lavish show of thriving life, the greenery appears each to mirror her destiny and to ennoble her fast expertise. It turns her imaginative and prescient right into a cosmic unity with nature. (Hong’s consideration to paint reaches yet one more ironic excessive within the engaging, unique turquoise of a tightly closed and view-blocking pull-down gate.) Sangok’s quest is discovered, above all, not in her dream of recording one other efficiency for posterity however within the ecstasy of imaginative and prescient itself. Right here, greater than ever, Hong’s cinema can also be revealed to be a philosophy—his technique not a way however an finish in itself, an embrace of the historical past of the artwork and a preservation of its future within the everlasting current tense of creation.

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