October 12, 2017

VIFF 2017 | John Cho Finds 'Columbus'

"Meth and modernism."
VIFF 2017 | John Cho Haley Lu Richardson Kogonada | Columbus

VIFF 2017—Korean-American video essayist/visual artist Kogonada frames his feature debut film as a work of inspiration from the eponymous Indiana city (and definitely not Ohio). A surprising Midwestern mecca for modernist architecture, Columbus, both the city and film, make the mundanity of everyday life and living all the warmer and more humanistic through its beautiful imagery.

It's remarkable how polished Columbus is. The film is a deliberately moving and paced drama about personal struggle and familial obligations. John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson star as Jin and Casey, mirrored images of the same cigarette smoking son/daughter, who quickly become an unlikely pair finding solace in each other's hardships and the architecture around them.

Full of wide, long shots and unconventional but always intriguing camera framing from cinematographer Elisha Christian, the assured direction reflects on the mediative conflict of each character caring for their parents in decidedly different ways. Inspired by the works of Richard Linklater, the film takes a less romantic but just as artful approach to walking and talking around a city's landscape à la the Before series. Every shot brims with an impressive yet non-showy stylishness that permeates the screen.

VIFF 2017 | John Cho Haley Lu Richardson Kogonada | Columbus

Although sparsely populated with only a few speaking roles, Columbus never feels thin or insubstantial. Parker Posey and Rory Culkin, in key but understated roles, add to the warmth of the film as Jin and Casey's respective confidants. Cho and Richardson excel at muted conversations with each other as they reveal more depth to other characters in oddly symmetrical ways.

Using man-made structures and the principles of design, Kogonada's film ruminates onto itself. As a film made by a critic of films, he's almost too slyly self-aware of what he's trying to say to his audience. The striking compositions make the seemingly mundane and direct conversations more dynamic in clear contrast to the actors' portrayals made so vividly affecting.

Columbus is a quietly moving rumination on loneliness, mortality, and the melancholic nature of architecture. Full of artistic, intellectual flourishes, Kogonada beautifully explores the oppressive burden of family duty expressed through spaces and setting. It's a stunning work of visual form and cinematic language using cultural identity and imagery to captivate viewers.

Columbus screened at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama and Contemporary World Cinema streams. It also screens at the opening gala of the 2017 Vancouver Asian Film Festival.


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