In Front of Your Face review from Korean auteur

Movies

Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has returned with another of his quiet cine-literary movie artefacts: ultra-lo-fi movies shot on video with available light, in real bedrooms, real apartments, in cafes and restaurants. They comprise mostly of shots of two people talking (and almost always drinking heavily) filmed at a cool distance from a fixed camera position, without the convention of shot-reverse-shot or the business of “coverage”. Hong is perhaps yet another beneficiary of the great Godardian inheritance – JLG showed films could do without these things, and productivity and speed could therefore be increased. And with Lars von Trier having long since abandoned the zero-budget aesthetic of Dogme 95, Hong has carried on, making fascinating, subtle, humane films with the bare minimum.

Once again, he casts a tender, sympathetic gaze on a female character: Lee Hye-yeong plays Sang-ok, a woman who has returned to Korea after what has apparently been a long period in the US, to stay with her sister Jeong-ok (Cho Yun-hee). Sang-ok is a once famous actor – someone actually recognises her in a park – who perhaps went to America to make it in Hollywood, but this has evidently not worked out, and she is now pretty much broke.

She is due to meet with a director, Jae-won (Kwon Hae-hyo) who is a longtime fan of her earlier work: she is hoping to shoot a feature quickly and get paid, because she has a terrible personal secret, which she will finally reveal with a strange, disconcerting peal of laughter. Is that because she has a calm, Zen detachment from these worldly cares, as she mindfully recites inner prayers to herself (“Let me see what is in front of my face”)? Or is she in a state of panicky denial? In Front of Your Face is a mysterious, gentle piece of work, unworldly and effortless.