Post(s) tagged with "THE DAY HE ARRIVES"

Laughing Upon Arrival

The Day He Arrives

Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/7/2011, 4:15 p.m.
Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/8/2011, 7:15 p.m. 

By Kelsey Brain

The title of Hong Sang-soo’s latest feature, THE DAY HE ARRIVES, gives the premise away but little else. From the opening moments, we are stranded alongside Seonjun, a former film director on a visit to Seoul after having taken up a teaching position elsewhere. With the sharpened sense of a traveler in unfamiliar surroundings, we become sensitized to the smallest gestures and faintest hints of emotion that betray the impulsive, panicked and infantilized emotional lives of him and his peers. Hong both identifies with and keeps a clinical distance from Seonjun, and he creates a liminal zone between farce and tragedy that makes one laugh and wince simultaneously.

In terms of his deadpan approach to human relationships, Hong is masterfully simplistic. Constructed as a series of individual episodes, we experience every scene anew, and must regain our bearings through ironically distanced observations, wherein the humor arises. A few scenes even begin so identically that they initially seem like replays or alternate takes, which makes the subtle (or not-so-subtle) inconsistencies of Seonjun more effectively felt. Framed and edited with a dry, knowing sense of human relationships, the overall story acts as a penetrating commentary that pokes fun at the characters. 

With a minimum of camera setups, Hong creates complex scenes that, for the viewer, puncture the surface of the characters’ pretences while, for the characters, keeping them intact. For instance, early in the film, Seonjun stops outside an apartment building. “Is she still living here?” he muses. She, Kyungjin, is not excited to see him again. His small talk devolves into a spectacular outburst of groveling, which she strongly resists until she too breaks down. This is captured in a single, unembellished shot, the very indifference of which makes it hysterically funny.

From the brief moment of high-strung, emotional melodrama, the scene abruptly cuts to a placid image of their shoes by the front door. Pacified by an experience the editing has quietly passed over, Kyungjin meekly accedes to Seonjun’s declaration never to meet again. Finally, we’re left watching the pathetic moments of their goodbye capped with Seonjun’s patronizing yet ironically sensible last words, “Be strong.” With a cheesy wave he’s gone, and their relationship is back to how we found it.

Hong isn’t interested in explaining the characters or in passing judgment. In the above-mentioned scene, there are changes throughout, but nothing definitive. What we see is the inconstant and ever shifting desires of characters, which may not make them easy to pin down but does maintain a reality that is fully comprehensible and fundamentally human, not to mention hilarious.

Kelsey Brain lives and works in Los Angeles.

Strains of Confinement

The Day He Arrives

Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/7/2011, 4:15 PM
Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/8/2011, 7:15 PM

Three and a Half

Egyptian-Spielberg, 11/5/2011, 1:00 PM
Chinese 1, 11/8/2011, 4:15 PM 

By Katie Datko

A reoccurring motif in this year’s programming lineup is confinement. Sometimes it’s figurative like in Cristián Jiménez’s BONSÁI where Julio, the main character lives in self-imposed isolation. Other times it’s more literal, as with Luc Besson’s gala film, THE LADY, about Burma’s intrepid champion for democracy Aung San Suu Kyi or Jafar Panahi who managed to smuggle THIS IS NOT A FILM out of the country in a cake while awaiting the verdict of his trial in Iran. Two other films where this theme plays out is Hong Song-soo’s THE DAY HE ARRIVES and Naghi Nemati’s THREE AND A HALF.

In Hong’s film, the main character, Sungjoon (Jun-sang Yu) is trapped within the origami-like folds of a recurring plot. A former film director-turned-professor who comes back from the countryside to visit Seoul, he is part of a repetitive narrative that consists of banal conversations, chance encounters and uneasy relationships. Its black-and-white imagery at first seem dynamic, infusing energy into the storyline. But as each piece of the story unfolds, the relationship between the various parts become tenuous—the plot turns back on itself, almost but not quite to the point of being monotonous. Sungjoon is held captive by his inability to move forward, essentially swathed in an unending cycle of critical junctures that never meet any resolutions.

THREE AND A HALF is a stirringly claustrophobic film: three women on furlough from prison try to escape Iran. In interviews, director Nemati claims the women are convicts, but in the film itself, it’s never clear what their prison is—for one of the women, it’s a relationship, another, social constraints. Shot mostly in close-ups with a few mid-shots, the camera mirrors the suffocating space the main character, Hanieh, pregnant and sick, inhabits. She’s constricted not only by her actions, but by those of the men in her life. As the movie opens with a blurred close-up of Hanieh crying and gun shots in the background, it’s also the ambient sound that smothers us, louder than usual, reminding us of Hanieh’s instability.

In both films not much backstory is provided, yet in each film we get a sense of how the main characters’ pasts inform their present. Neither character is truly sympathetic—there is something unhinged about both Sungjoon and Hanieh. Each is a victim, captive by their own misdeeds. Watching them navigate their restrictions and limitations causes us to wonder if freedom is a possible or if it is an untenable illusion.

Katie Datko is an LA-based writer who has written for the L.A. Weekly, and the LohDown on Science.

THE DAY HE ARRIVES screens as part of our World Cinema section at AFI FEST 2011 presented by Audi!

In director Hong Sang-soo’s sublime black-and-white vision of Seoul in winter, a filmmaker’s visit to an old friend reverberates with déjà vu-inducing parallels and repetitions.


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