Claire’s Camera (Hong Sangsoo, 2017)

2017 - Claire's Camera 4

Mysterious Object at Cannes

Claire’s Camera, barely over an hour long and shot in about a week at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, isn’t even the best Hong Sangsoo movie of the past year. That would be On the Beach at Night Alone. Nor is it likely to be the most popular, with The Day After, which like Claire’s Camera played at Cannes this year, more likely to attract an audience outside of Hong’s hardcore devotees, with a look and mood more in line with the masters of the European art film. But there isn’t a film this year that I’ve had more fun thinking about and rewatching than Claire’s Camera, with the possible exceptions of Baahubali 2 and the film Hong had at this year’s SIFF (and last year’s VIFF), Yourself and Yours. Every Hong film gets better the more times you watch it, his peculiarly fluid approach to reality and temporality make even the most basic elements of his scenarios matters for speculation, kaleidoscopic objects that shift not only meaning but cause and effect with every new viewing. But Claire’s Camera is exceptional in this regard. Each time I’ve seen it, I’ve had to invent a whole new theory of the film, none of which have so far managed to explain all the facts as they’re presented. Watching it is like trying to solve a puzzle in which several key pieces are missing. I’m going to try and work through it here, which will involve sorting through the plot in detail. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you should, it’s delightful. But you should probably stop reading now if spoilers concern you.

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Between Work: A Conversation on Claire’s Camera and The Day After

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Evan Morgan: The sun’s out, palm trees are in sight, and we’ve temporarily traded in soju for sancerre. Hong Sang-soo is en vacance again. I don’t know about you Sean, but I’m always happy to see Hong in the literally and figuratively breezy mode that he takes up in Claire’s Camera. The seasons have long played a central role in the Hong project, though it seems that the tonal vacillation between his summer and winter films grows with each passing year. Hong’s sense of humor lilts along during the warmer months, and though it never goes entirely dormant in wintertime, it cools and takes on a serrated edge, like cracked ice. Claire’s Camera, in keeping with this seasonal dichotomy, might be his most amiable movie yet, defined as it is by Isabelle Huppert’s warm naiveté and the dabs of sunflower yellow provided by her summer frock. Huppert’s flightiness bleeds into the plotting too, which moves with a nonchalance that borders on amateurishness. I mean that as a compliment. It strikes me that Hong’s acceptance into the upper echelon of the art cinema world (the film unfolds during Cannes, after all) occurred simultaneously with his loosened production methods, and though the competition gatekeepers prefer the more somber Seoul films, the animating spirit of later Hong owes much to the laidback atmosphere of friends who vacation together and decide, ‘what the hell let’s make a movie.’ It’s not for nothing that this most amateur of Hong films is set against the backdrop of the world’s premier film festival.

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Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)

Mustang girls in car

“Are you afraid?” said the North Wind.

“No!” she wasn’t.

                –“East of the Sun and West of the Moon”

It might be tempting to read Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s beautifully confident feature film debut, Mustang (France’s official entry to the Academy Awards), exclusively as a portrait of the situation women face in Turkey today.  The situation, while it should  continue to concern those interested in in women’s rights , however, is too complex to be contained by a film that traces the story of one family of daughters in one part of Turkey, and I do not believe Erguven’s film should be, or is even intended to be, reduced to an examination of the particular issues faced just by women in the filmmaker’s own country, however much the story is, in fact, inspired by her experiences there and by her concern for Turkish women. She has noted  for example, that the inciting incident at the film’s beginning is one very similar to an episode in her own childhood, and she has also said that she “put many . . . stories that I heard in Turkey into the film.”

So while the film is, certainly, culturally specific in significant ways, it reads more as a fairy tale or a folk tale than as a slice of life story.  As such, its themes resonate as much for me, an American woman, as they might for anyone. Folk tales invite us to consider direct applications for the readers, and here, viewers might do the same, apply and identify. The five sisters at the center of the story and living at the edge of the Black Sea are very much like the sisters you might find in the Norwegian tales of East of the Sun and West of the Moon  collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, a book, gorgeously illustrated by Kay Nielsen, that I grew up with and pored over, and, embracing any hints of fantastical Other, identified with.

Three Princesses of Blue Mountain

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