Structured like a diptych, Hong’s work here is more meditative than usual as his protagonist tries to find the grace and psychological clarity that have eluded her all her life.
Dir. Hong Sang-soo
2021 | South Korea | Drama | 85 mins | Korean
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
Cast: Lee Hye-yeong, Cho Yunhee, Kwon Hae-hyo
Plot: A former actress with a secret returns to Seoul to live with her sister in a high-rise apartment and meets a director to discuss her return to acting.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
International Sales: Finecut
Subject Matter: Moderate – Siblings; Psychological Clarity
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
It’s hard to keep up with Hong Sang-soo. Here we have a new piece titled In Front of Your Face which premiered at Cannes.
A few months prior, he premiered Introduction at the Berlinale, winning Best Screenplay in the process. This year, he’s presenting his new work, The Novelist’s Film, at the Berlinale again.
For those who are familiar with Hong, In Front of Your Face may prove to be a slight change, not in style or aesthetic but in tone. While much of his output is talky and contemplative, here he approaches the narrative more meditatively.
Structurally, the film operates as a diptych, centering on Sang-ok, a former actress in her fifties who visits her younger sister in her Korean hometown after living in the States for years.
“There’s so much we don’t know about each other, right?”
The first half follows their conversations over coffee and a stroll in the park as they try to reconnect, but not without that spark of angst that marks every relationship between siblings. The second half of the film sees Sang-ok having drinks with a slightly younger director who wants her to star in his new film.
Lee Hye-yeong is magnetic as Sang-ok—her face seems like she has been through too much yet it hides a personal secret that Hong is in no hurry to reveal. When the revelation comes, it is so naturalistic that it feels oddly subdued.
However, Hong’s film is not really about secrets and revelations but a woman trying to find the grace and psychological clarity that have eluded all her life.
Elena Lazic of The Playlist captured the film’s intention best when she wrote that it explores “the eminently difficult question of how to live happily between past, present and future.”
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