‘The Novelist’s Film’ overview: Hong Sang-soo does it once more

Shortly earlier than settling into “The Novelist’s Film,” a tense, absorbing and at last enchanting new film written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, I couldn’t assist however cycle by a flurry of acquainted questions: Will this one be in colour or black-and-white? Will the protagonist be a author, a painter, a filmmaker or an actor? Will the story (or tales) unfold in strictly linear style, abruptly hit the reset button midway by or play different gently mind-bending video games with time? And most significantly, what’s going to everybody drink: soju, as regular, or one thing a bit much less conducive to Hong’s model of reckless, well-liquored fact telling?

To reply these questions in no specific order: They keep on with espresso till late within the recreation, after they eat bottle after bottle of candy, milky makgeolli. The story flows in chronological order, which doesn’t make it any much less unusual or mysterious, in its method, than it will’ve been with just a few of the director’s signature temporal twists. The film was shot in sharp, high-contrast black-and-white, within the stationary lengthy takes and medium group pictures finest suited to the characters’ lengthy, leisurely conversations. (Hong, as regular, served as his personal cinematographer, editor and composer.) And the protagonist, per the title, is a novelist, albeit one with a extreme sufficient case of author’s block to contemplate making an attempt one thing new.

Attempting one thing new, after all, is one thing that Hong’s detractors probably want he would do extra usually — or maybe not so usually, given his unceasing productiveness and unflappable consistency. (“The Novelist’s Film,” which received second prize at this 12 months’s Berlin Worldwide Film Pageant, is the director’s twenty seventh function and his third image to be launched in U.S. theaters this 12 months, after “Introduction” and “In Front of Your Face.”) However those that love and admire Hong’s work know that the pleasure of it lies exactly in that consistency. With the subtlest of variations and probably the most quotidian of particulars, he and his actors unlock piercing insights and rivers of feeling.

Cho Yun-hee, Lee Hye-young and Kwon Hae-hyo within the film “The Novelist’s Film.”

(Cinema Guild)

One of many chief pleasures of “The Novelist’s Film” is the possibility to witness Hong’s persevering with collaboration with the veteran actor Lee Hye-young, who, after a number of years’ absence from the display, made a comeback of kinds in “In Front of Your Face.” Right here she performs the novelist, Jun-hee, who within the opening moments arrives at a bookstore, positioned a long way outdoors Seoul, that’s run by an outdated, unnamed buddy (Web optimization Younger-hwa) who was once a part of her tight-knit literary circle. The two haven’t seen one another since, and of their tense however not unfriendly dialog, you sense that Jun-hee isn’t simply making an attempt to rekindle an outdated bond. She’s interested in what it will imply to surrender the author’s life, one thing she’s considering doing herself.

Jun-hee bids adieu to the buddy and her sort youthful assistant (Park Mi-so) after which — as a result of a Hong film can by no means have too many awkward reunions — promptly runs into one other outdated acquaintance, Hyo-jin (Kwon Hae-hyo), and his spouse (Lee Eun-mi). Extra espresso ensues, and extra overtly barbed dialog, too: It progressively develops that Hyo-jin, a profitable director, was as soon as set to adapt considered one of Jun-hee’s novels — a venture that fell aside underneath circumstances for which she clearly assigns him among the blame. “You’re ambitious. Extremely so, I’d say,” Jun-hee says, punctuating her each sentence with a casually lacerating snort. (Lee’s present for sublimating and venting her character’s rage is however one ingredient of her outstanding efficiency.)

You is perhaps inclined to think about Hyo-jin as a stand-in for his creator (he wouldn’t be the primary). However the grasping, budget-hungry filmmaker that Jun-hee holds in such barely disguised contempt doesn’t sound very similar to Hong, and because the surroundings shifts to a stunning outside strolling path, the director throws in a curveball — and a 3rd surprising reunion — with the introduction of Kil-soo (Kim Min-hee, Hong’s most frequent collaborator), an actor whom Hyo-jin acknowledges. Kil-soo clearly stirs one thing in Jun-hee, who regards this smiling, leather-jacketed magnificence with a mixture of heat, protectiveness and a faintly acquisitive need.

A woman holds flowers outdoors near trees in the movie "The Novelist's Film."

Kim Min-hee within the film “The Novelist’s Film.”

(Cinema Guild)

Would Kil-soo maybe contemplate appearing within the brief movie that Jun-hee, pissed off by her aborted venture with Hyo-jin, has been excited by writing? The reply to that query is a tantalizing possibly; Kil-soo is each intrigued and cautious. And how much a movie is Jun-hee making an attempt to make? What she describes sounds a bit like, properly, a Hong Sang-soo film. It’ll have a scripted story of kinds however not be rigidly beholden to it, and it’ll draw a lot of its inspiration from the actors and areas. Does this make Jun-hee the film’s actual stand-in for Hong? It’s uncertain. She may avail herself of among the director’s strategies, however her each phrase manufacturers her as very a lot her personal unbiased thinker and artist.

So does the brief movie she finally ends up making, of which we ultimately do see a short, beguiling snippet. The structuring theme of “The Novelist’s Film” could also be inventive frustration, the sort that may spur a author to name it quits, an actor to take a break and even a longtime director to rethink his calling. Nevertheless it’s additionally very a lot about discovering inventive renewal in surprising locations — a bookstore, an outside path, a movie show — and studying to embrace, somewhat than resist, life’s fantastically meandering circulate. In one of many film’s finest, most bracing scenes, Jun-hee declares, “Everyone wants to realize their life in their own way.” Their artwork, too, although one of many wonders of Hong’s cinema is that we are able to scarcely inform the 2 aside.

‘The Novelist’s Film’

In Korean dialogue with English subtitles

Not rated

Working time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Taking part in: Nov. 7-8, 8 p.m., Acropolis Cinema at 2220 Arts + Archives, Los Angeles; Nov. 11 at Lumiere Cinema on the Music Corridor, Beverly Hills