by Sean Gilman Retrospective

Claire’s Camera | Hong Sang-soo

October 26, 2018

Of the three films Hong Sang-soo made in 2017, with actress and romantic partner Kim Min-hee, two were released in the U.S. in the spring of 2018 — shortly after his latest film, Grass (which also stars Kim), premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. As always, the hyper-productive Hong outpaces the capabilities of the international arthouse distribution system. But Claire’s Camera was made in a rush, even by Hong’s standards: Shot over a few days at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, with a rough cut completed a day after filming wrapped, it’s a deceptively light and sunny film, the flip-side of the cold, bitter worlds of Hong’s other two 2017 premieres (On the Beach at Night Alone and The Day After). Kim plays Man-hee, a young woman, working for a film marketer, who abruptly gets fired in the middle of the festival. She doesn’t know why, and her boss won’t tell her, but later we learn it’s because the boss believes Man-hee slept with the director they’re representing, and with whom the boss is herself having an affair. All three Koreans encounter Isabelle Huppert’s Claire, a music teacher visiting the festival for the first time. The director carries on an awkward flirtation with her, the boss is vaguely cold and suspicious of her, while Man-hee charms her. Out of these simple elements, a handful of provocative lines, and some temporally confounding scenes and images, an unfathomable mystery forms — and the film only grows more enigmatic on repeat viewings. What can we know about other people, or even ourselves, in a world where truth is malleable; where people lie to themselves and each other; where even a camera — in theory, an objective record — can produce deceptive images, or transform the thing it photographs?

Part of Hong Sang-soo: Look at Everything Again Slowly.