Finally completing his long self-discipline, the apprentice ties the monastery’s large, circular grinding stone to his body. It is emblematic of the Buddhist bhavachakra, the wheel of life and rebirth, and he takes a statue of the buddha-to-come, Maitreya from the monastery, and he goes to climb to the summit of the tallest of the surrounding mountains. As he climbs, dragging the stone wheel behind him and struggling to carry the statue, he reflects upon the fish, the frog, and the snake he tormented. Finally attaining the summit, he prays and leaves the statue seated on top of the circular grinding stone, overlooking the monastery in the lake far below.
Hong Sang-soo’s films occupy an interesting territory in the world of cinema. It’s rare to hear of anyone declaring any of his films a masterpiece, but it’s even rarer to encounter dissent regarding his consistency. He finds himself playing a role with little pressure (allowing him the comfort to be modest yet prolific). Many expect a good Hong film each year, and can anticipate its pleasures without knowing of its unique qualities. Perhaps this could be said of any auteur, but for Hong, there’s less scrutiny than for other festival staples. This unassuming nature is deceiving, however, for Hong has, much like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang, and others, modeled his cinema as a shifting universe, an oeuvre that builds on itself consciously with recurring elements. Though Hong’s universe of film profs, drunk students, and romantic woes may seem limiting in relation to the aforementioned directors, his world is nevertheless an expansive one that evolves film by film. Slight gestures are unforgettable, such as one involving an umbrella in last year’s In Another Country, and with ambiguous instances of déjà vu, overlapping scenarios, and maybe-a-dream-maybe-not moments, his cinema has become, as quietly as possible, one of mystery.
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon subtly creates a world where every character answers to love with little certainty, obliged to keep relationships going that don’t satisfy them. Hong continues his slight detour from his ongoing deconstruction of petty male behavior and insecurity and focuses his attention on the female title character. Far from an innocent victim, Haewon never seems happy, at least not after her mother departs for Canada early on. Between the film’s central relationship—a rather painful one with Seongjun, a film professor (of course)—and the others that are peripherally implied or presented briefly, the closest thing to a successful romance is the seven-year long affair Haewon’s friend has with a married man. Other romantic options are presented for Haewon: there’s a potential suitor who she encounters in front of a bookstore, the very same location (a typical example of the director’s intricate play of repeated spaces) where she’ll meet another kind stranger she drinks with only to return to her affair. There’s something tragic about these characters, who probably should not be together. Haewon tries to break it off with Seongjun. We see him crying at a park bench listening to Beethoven’s 7th. It would be a funny image if it weren’t so sad.
Rejected posters for Spike Lee’s Oldboy by Juan Luis Garcia. Interesting to see how the first official poster designed by Neil Kellerhouse and released yesterday went with a decidedly goofier treatment (incidentally ditching the trademark ‘A Spike Lee joint’ credit).