Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Independent Film Festival Boston 2017.138: Columbus

Okay, that's stretching it, but given that there was actually a filmmaker there, it feels like a festival:

That's director Kogonada and the Brattle's Yangqiao Lu up there, talking a fair amount about how the former was inspired by Ozu, apparently right to his professional name. Despite that start (I am generally far less interested in recognizing and enumerating someone's influences than what the person does), and how making a movie whose frequent focus on architecture sure sounds like it could lead to a dry discussion, it turned out to be not quite lively but certainly animated, covering topics from architecture to how Haley Lu Richardson was a dancer before turning to acting, so getting her to dance ugly and desperately in one scene was a bit odd. He also mentioned they shot this before the #StarringJohnCho stuff, so that was a nice boost for them.

(And something that casting directors should be doing regardless; Cho strolls into this movie like James Bond, and really needs some sort of debonair spy role)

There were a couple of comments about people finding this movie devastating, and it makes me wonder, just a little bit, if it didn't resonate with me because my parents are both with me and, by and large, had their crap together as I grew up, so a lot of what serves as a major factor for feeling that way is something I very happily cannot connect with at an experiential, "yeah-they-got-that-feeling-right" level. So maybe add a quarter-star or so for that.

Some good news: Though it could only be scheduled for a week-long run at the Brattle with interruptions once the weekend was done - including a cancellation on Monday due to technical issues that immediately made me think of how Kogonada and Yangqiao pointed out that was a bit mis-framed at the start of the Q&A and how this was a bit of an over-reaction - it will be moving over to the Capitol starting Friday, so this is not entirely a catch-it-in-the-next-two-days-or-miss-it post.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2017 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Columbus is the fourth or fifth movie I can recall off the top of my head that draws its title from its setting in a way that anticipates the audience reading about it in a film-festival program. You're not really expected to go in without having read something along the lines of "... in Columbus, Indiana, a city noteworthy for its modernist architecture…" at some point, and I sometimes wonder how they play without that preliminary step. Fortunately, it's not a huge deal in this case, although there may still be a moment or two when unprepared audiences wonder just why these impressive performances often return to that particular subject.

The town's architecture is a point of interest for Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a 19-year-old who works in the library and spends most of her off-hours hanging out with her mom (Michelle Forbes). She was looking forward to a talk by a famous Korean scholar, but he had a stroke, and he's currently stable but not healthy enough to move, so his former student Eleanor (Parker Posey) calls his son Jin (John Cho), who flies in from Seoul. Though Korean tradition maintains that it is important family be by a person's side when he or she dies, Jin is too restless for that, and meets Casey while pacing near where she takes her smoke breaks. Though his rocky relationship with his father has led him to avoid the man's passion, he doesn't exactly have a lot of other people to talk to when Eleanor returns home to Chicago and his father continues to lay in limbo.

John Cho is the big, recognizable name in the cast, and expect the film to be used as an argument for why he should be a bigger star; the film is frequently built around shots where the characters are subordinated to the buildings around them but Cho strides through them with a hostility that catches one's attention but doesn't actually put a viewer off. He's a compelling-enough presence that he can push Jin's resentment hard without obvious justification beyond his own words, only letting the man's friendlier side to emerge later. It's worth noting that he does this without any direct interaction with Jin's father, whom writer/director Kogonada quickly establishes as frustrating in a wordless, initial sequence where he's mostly either just off-screen or backgrounded while the audience sees the frantic concern of Parker Posey's Eleanor, a contrast that allows the scenes where they have to sometimes-contentiously meet in the middle to ddraw the audience in.

Full review on EFC.

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