Claire's Camera (2018)


Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: France / South Korea

I can understand why Claire’s Camera, the new drama film by Korean director Hong Sang-soo, may be considered a bit shallow for some viewers. At the first sight, the story feels somewhat underdeveloped, but a deeper look into its incidents made me appreciate it more. Shot during the 2016 Cannes film festival, the film is an insouciant 68-minute reflection on relationships and time, the transitory and the permanent.

The most delightful episode of the film happens during its first minutes, when Manhee (Kim Min-hee), a film selling person in Cannes, is forced to resign from work without an acceptable reason. Her boss, Yanghye (Chang Mi-hee), justifies the fact with a sudden loss of confidence after five years working together but contradicts herself during the explanation. She states she hired her because of her honesty, something you can’t change with time, but now is trying to convince her that it changed.

After a while, we learn that the true reason for the dismissal was jealousy. The 50-year-old filmmaker So Wansoo (Jung Jin-young), for whom they work, slept with Manhee while drunk. Nothing wrong with that if he wouldn't be maintaining a romantic relationship with Yanghye.


The sadness of being without a job becomes attenuated when Manhee befriends Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a full-time Parisienne teacher and part-time photographer who is in Cannes for the first. She meets director Wansoo by chance, becoming a bit shocked by how much he drinks, and through her magical camera, encourages Manhee to figure out what she wasn’t capable to understand.

Fluctuating with slight temporal shifts, the narrative feels manifestly comfortable while the dialogues don’t measure up to other Sang-soo works, but feel naturally engaging nonetheless. Only some of the scenarios felt a bit too composed.

This is the second time that celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher; Elle) works with Sang-soo, following their auspicious collaboration in 2012 with In Our Country. In turn, Min-hee (The Handmaiden), after the polemic news regarding her real-life affair with the director, continues his muse, having participated in all his works since 2015.

Claire’s Camera is not among the director’s best efforts and yet, has the power to captivate us with its lightness, effortless spontaneity, and instinctive charm.


On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)


Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: South Korea

Prolific Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo keeps pursuing both inner sensitivities and the truth in human relationships with a cinéma vérité that enchants with simplicity. Sang-soo remains faithful to a simple yet highly efficient filmmaking style that goes against any contemporary cinematic trend that attempts to turn everything visually spectacular through fabricated settings, eccentric special effects, or excessively pre-staged situations. Instead, he prefers tackling a good emotional story by taking advantage of an observant sincerity, naturalistic performances, and a forthright approach. Gentle dramas such as “Oki’s Movie”, “The Day He Arrives”, and “In Another Country” (featuring Isabelle Huppert) are highlights of an undeviating career that incorporates three more titles this year: “Claire’s Camera”, featuring Ms. Huppert once again, “The Day After”, and “On the Beach at Night Alone”, the object of this review.

Just like the former two titles, the latter stars the talented Kim Min-hee (“The Handmaiden”), winner of the latest Silver Berlin Bear, who has been the director’s inspirational muse since the release of the well-received “Right Now, Wrong Then” in 2015. The film comes wrapped up in autobiographical controversy after Sang-soo has admitted his extramarital affair with Min-hee at a press conference in Seoul.
Feeling abandoned after the terminus of an affair with a married man, the celebrated yet stranded actress Young-hee (Min-hee) flies to Hamburg, Germany, where she finds solace in the company of a longtime friend. The disenchantment with her actual life is quite perceptible when we listen to their conversations. She wonders if her lover misses her like she misses him and even tests her friend with “should I come living here with you?”.


Unfitted, she returns to the Korean coastal town of Gangneung, where she reunites with some old friends at a restaurant. This section is a staple in the director’s written statement since food and drinks always play an important role in his narrative process. At the dinner, she gets tipsy in just a few minutes, proclaiming her male friends unqualified to love or be loved, except Jun-hee (Song Seon-mi) with whom she has a special chemistry.
After being rescued of her dreams while lying down alone at the beach, she is taken to drink with her former director/lover, an encounter that gains extra dramatic agitation. There is a thin line separating loneliness and friendship here, an idea reinforced by the main character herself when she admits her emotional complexity and destructive side. Also, one can feel a strong sense of misplacement and surrender that translates into emotional aggressiveness rather than resilience.

Sang-soo operates the camera in a very efficient way, regardless if he opts for static or dynamic shots, occasionally complemented with zoom ins and wide pans. His lucid quests for the meaning of love, consistently clever and exclusive, keep enriching the contemporary cinema with modesty and virtue. Hence, “On the Beach at Night Alone” brings some truths attached and is definitely worth exploring.