In this modest second feature, Jang Woo-jin demonstrates a canny eye for separations between people and within space and time. Autumn, Autumn tells two stories neatly partitioned by a title card 35 minutes in, both originating from strangers sitting together on a train from Seoul to Chuncheon. Jang’s deliberate framing places a stanchion between a quiet, anxious young man and a middle-aged couple having a conversation about losing touch with old friends. The film’s first half follows the younger man, Ji-hyeon, who we learn is unemployed and returning to Chuncheon after an unsuccessful job interview. An old friend spots Ji-hyeon coming down one side of an escalator as he ascends the other, and Ji-hyeon’s guilt over not remembering the man’s name lingers long after the two have been pulled in their opposite directions. Jang follows Ji-hyeon around a strangely desolate, grey Chuncheon as he visits a restaurant owned by another old friend’s mother; gets drunk with a buddy; and finally calls the friend he ran into earlier, Jong-seong, to tearfully apologize for falling out of touch and not remembering his name. “People forget, man. It happens,” Jong-seong responds, and though slightly bemused he honors Ji-hyeon’s request for him to sing a song over the phone for old time’s sake.
The second half then follows the middle-aged couple from the same train, Se-rang and Heung-ju, over the course of a tentative, increasingly painful first in-person meeting following an online connection. Jang’s sense of changing landscapes and how they contrast with and evoke memories recalls Tsai Ming-liang’s short The Skywalk Is Gone, and knowing Chuncheon is this filmmaker’s hometown adds poignancy to Autumn, Autumn’s reflections on distance and longing—and images like the one of Ji-hyeon lost amidst a newly bulldozed vacant lot. Jang’s form is restrained (perhaps by limitations of budget, since the live sound recording seems oddly submerged or distant at times), but also closely attuned to how people interact with public spaces and how small shifts in ambient light add shades of emotional complexity to a simple conversation over lunch, as Se-rang and Heung-ju attempt to reestablish their connection over a childhood memory of playing with insects. At once distant and intimate, like a love song from an old friend heard through an iPhone speaker, Autumn, Autumn astutely captures separations that are not so easily overcome, despite forces that pull the disconnected back from across the divide.
Published as part of New Directors/New Films 2017 | Dispatch 1.