Clytaemnestra is compelling matched to its adapted text and its defining power dynamics, but is also a remarkably dry, frequently enervating work of stifled rhythms.
What happens when the most perfectly simpatico location for an artistic project does little more than widen the fissures between director and collaborators (and more specifically, a male authority and his female performers?) Such is the crux of Ougie Pak’s Clytaemnestra, where a Korean troupe’s acting workshop centered around the ancient text of Agamemnon in Athens begins to subtly parallel the tragic fault lines of classical mythology. The Acropolis and The Theater of Dionysus — both of which make an appearance — should bolster a communal, theatrical spirit; instead, the dislocation, skewed more towards the actresses than anyone else, is calcified.
Jongman Kim is Director Kim, who in real life is responsible for the inception of this project, inviting Pak to visit the very workshop Clytaemnestra fictionalizes, the resulting footage coming together as this very film. This openness is otherwise absent from his domineering character, who has a singular vision for Agamemnon, yet “encourages” improvisation, only to poke holes in his company’s own ideas. He mostly clashes with Hye Bin (Haru Kim), who occupies our narrative focus, being the one actress whose passage into Greece we’re privy to. Rather than yield some sort of labored piece of successful, difficult theater, the obviousness of the patriarchal abuse becomes only more painfully clear as Director Kim selects Hye for the majority of his insufferable paroxysms.
A remarkably dry product, Clytaemnestra doesn’t offer much in the way of a visual respite, despite the sun-kissed Greek landscape. Modestly geometrical staging brings to mind Straub-Huillet, though the crisscrossing, inter-troupe allegiances and relationships play with relatively stifled rhythms, employed more to highlight the director-favoring schism between Kim and Hye rather than filling out an entire orbit of characters. The downtime, where actors steal each other’s beers and stare at their iPhones, is frustratingly limited, and we’re instead treated to the rigid, enervating improv sessions, which once again function more to give grounding to Kim’s overly commanding behavior.
Still, the ostensibly low-stakes environment — which in turn is similarly presented with a self-effacing artistry — is compellingly matched both to the adapted text and the defining power dynamics. Pak loops the surface narrative back in on itself, filtered through the transient experience of working in a foreign land, and Agememnon itself. Clytaemnestra works, then, as an interplay of these various elements, of where they complement each other, and more often than not, where they butt heads.
You can currently stream Ougie Pak’s Clytaemnestra on Mubi.