Too loose and low stakes a film to work in a meaningful way—this is a disappointing effort by Hong Sang-soo.
Dir. Hong Sang-soo
2017 | South Korea/France | Drama/Comedy | 69 mins | 1.85:1 | Korean, English & French
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Isabelle Huppert, Jung Jin-young, Chang Mi-hee
Plot: A Korean woman working as a sales agent for a film playing at the Cannes Film Festival meets a French high school teacher who visits the festival to support a friend.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
International Sales: Finecut
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Loose/Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore International Film Festival ’17 – first published 17 Dec 2017)
One of Hong Sang-soo’s light-hearted romps, Claire’s Camera shares more in common with works like Hill of Freedom (2014) and Yourself and Yours (2016) than with something more elegiac like On the Beach At Night Alone (2017).
It is also one of his shortest films, running at only 69 minutes, but stars two heavyweight actresses—French screen legend Isabelle Huppert (whom Hong worked with previously in 2012 for In Another Country) and Kim Min-hee (who rose to international prominence for her seductive performance in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (2016)).
Kim, of course, is the center of attention—or for Hong, the center of attraction (if you have followed the controversy)—in this story about a woman, Man-hee, who works as a sales agent for a director-producer duo.
After an unexpected moment with her boss, Man-hee takes to the streets of Cannes (the film was shot at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, and premiered in the 2017 edition) to find herself, inadvertently meeting a teacher, Claire (with camera in tow), who is out on a trip to support her filmmaker friend.
“Taking a photo is something very important, because if I take a photo of you, you are not the same person anymore.”
Hong focuses on the conversations between Man-hee and Claire, as they walk along the beach or relax over coffee at cafes. They talk about what they do, and what it means to be an artist, but in large parts, both of them are trying to understand each other—after all, English is not their strongest suit. It is this back-and-forth communication that tries to ascertain or affirm each other’s words or views that becomes trivial after a while.
This is the main problem with the film—it is too loose and spontaneous to work in any meaningful way. Even by Hong’s standards, it is way too casual, way too low stakes to warrant any affect on our part. Hong’s fixation with his muse can also feel tiresome. In a telling if ironic scene, Kim’s character is decked out in hot shorts at an afternoon party, irking a Korean director that she worked for and whom she had an intimate encounter with.
If I may be blunt, Claire’s Camera is Hong at his laziest. No wonder it played out of competition at Cannes. This is a disappointing effort from one of South Korea’s most prolific filmmakers.