SIFF 2015: A Matter of Interpretation (Lee Kwangkuk, 2014)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

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Nothing is more boring than listening to someone else explain their dreams. It’s a wholly selfish act, inflicting a narrative of zero consequence upon a hapless listener who will never, ever connect with it. With this handicap in mind, the success of the delightfully oblique A Matter of Interpretation, which is almost entirely about dreams, is even more astonishing.

Written and directed by up-and-coming Korean filmmaker Lee Kwangkuk, the film centers on a disaffected actress, fed up with her meager roles and stagnant relationship. One day, similar to so many since she got in her rut, she meets a kind detective who fancies himself an interpreter of dreams. As she unpacks the elements of her previous evening’s slumber, the similarities between it and reality become enmeshed and intractable.

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The story moves fluidly between these worlds and adds flashbacks and other forms of storytelling to the mix. The coincidences among them pile up with such frequency that we soon lose track of whether they originated in the dreams or in reality. Lee threads recurring motifs through the plot to enhance the delirium. This isn’t Inception, with its wonky attempts at ascribing logic to dreams. It’s a meditation on meaning.

Lee is a protégé of famed Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo, having worked as an assistant on Hong’s Tale of Cinema and Hahaha. While A Matter of Interpretation shares an elliptical narrative style with Hong, whose films are constantly wrestling with the very nature of storytelling, Lee carves out his own idiosyncratic vision. His layers are more engineered, in the best sense of the term. A Matter of Interpretation is clever and beguiling, puzzling and mysterious.

(A Matter of Interpretation plays 5/28 at Lincoln Square and 5/29 & 5/30 at the Harvard Exit) 

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