Thursday, 13 September 2018

TIFF Film Review: "Hotel by the River" ("강변 호텔") (2018).



The 23rd film by the Korean Woody Allen - Hotel by the River (강변 호텔). This South Korean drama film written, produced, and directed by Hong Sang-soo.The film centres on the interactions of a struggling poet, his estranged sons, and two female friends. Feeling, for no apparent reason, like he is going to die, an old poet, staying for free in a riverside hotel, summons his two estranged sons. After being betrayed by the man she was living with, a young woman gets a room at the same hotel. Seeking support, she asks a friend to join her.

Once again, the film is another addition to director Hong's study on human relationship that has been synonymous to the director's career since his 1996 debut film The Day a Pig Fell into the Well (돼지가 우물에 빠진 날). Filming took place between January and February 2017, in Hong Sang-soo's usual breakneck shooting style.

The film stars Ki Joo-Bong Ki, Kim Min-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi, and Yoo Joon-Sang. The cast gave terrifically slight, contained, but ineffably soulful performances that portrays the subtleties, fragility and the brutal melancholy of people caught in a tangled web of complicated relationships.

Hotel by the River may not be a particularly great film, but it does feel like a necessary one. It is amusingly bittersweet yet quietly resplendent. Even though it feels like an undeveloped drama about relationships and identity. The premise is less interesting than Hong Sang-soo’s precise execution and presentation of the material, and the simple but brilliant script makes this an unpretentious, authentic moral tale, if a bit slight. Hong’s priorities are different from other filmmakers; he eschews an adherence to film language decorum in favour of interrogating emotions and ideas that are important to him, in ways that make sense to him. Hong tells the story in long and dislogue-filled takes, done in a soft black-and-white that feels like pencil drawings, to extract deep and earnest confessions with a graceful touch that shudders with the life-shaking emotions at their core. While dealing with the trope of "relationships", Hong Sang-soo’s films have always been very philosophical without being moralistic. As in other Hong Sang-soo movies, time is malleable and capricious. The film has all the hallmarks of something unostentatious - except, it isn’t. This is actually trickster Hong Sang-soo working in his element, albeit more surreptitiously than we’re used to seeing. It is an oeuvre whose variations on a self-reflexive theme have increasingly become more revealing, more raw, and also more devastating. Elegantly shot in glorious, chilly, silky digital black-and-white, it plays with chronology in a way that seems both casual and musically precise. The film is buoyed by the cast’s nuanced performances that show that relationships don’t always turn out the way you expect. Hong Sang-soo’s films homes in on the essence of conversations, mining them for a drama of autobiographical rumination. It is a bit slight, which isn’t a problem, just an observation that it’s incredibly slice-of-life.

Simon says Hotel by the River (강변 호텔) receives:


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