Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Architecture, connection and commitment grace Kogonada's masterful debut, COLUMBUS

The perfect antidote to summer's uber-marketed blockbusters and indie rom-com drivel, here's a movie made for intelligent adult audiences who want something original from their cinema and are willing to watch real characters deal quietly but bracingly with important events and themes in an atmosphere of great, if often man-made, beauty.

Architecture has seldom seemed as vital and important to our life as it does in COLUMBUS, the debut film from a fellow named Kogonada, a South Korean-born U.S. immigrant raised in the Mid-west and now living in Nashville. His movie so lives and breathes its architectural wonders that the viewer is able to do this, too -- relishing each new place, and the compositions through which we see those places, in rapt appreciation. (The cinematography here is by Elisha Christian, and the editing by Kogonada himself.)

Visual beauty and the wonders of architecture have been captured elsewhere, as in La Sapienza by Eugène Green, but Kogonada, as writer and director, has also been able to capture character -- succinctly and realistically -- two in particular: Jin (played by a surprising John Cho, below, left), the son of a famous architect whose father in now in hospital in a coma in this architecturally amazing city of Columbus, Indiana; and Casey (the equally fine Haley Lu Richardson, below, right). a young girl with aspirations to architecture stuck here in Columbus taking care of her maybe-still-drug-addicted mother.

How these two people meet, slowly bond, and finally prove important to one another is handled by the filmmaker with such efficiency, honesty and believability that the movie will probably stand as some kind of filmmaker's/screenwriter's manual on how to achieve this sort of thing.

The character-building and theme-revealing is given us via much of the architecture that we, along with our two characters, view, and this is handled equally well. (The movie should make you more fully aware, if not appreciative, of your own surroundings.)

The pacing here is very slow, yet so much is going on that I doubt you will mind. Event-wise, very little happens, yet by the finale immense changes are occurring. And if Kogonada resists not just melodrama but even perhaps the idea of drama itself, he nonetheless brings us to the point of caring a great deal about these two people and their lives.

The movie's single misstep, in my estimation, is the one scene in which, suddenly, and for no good reason I can fathom, the soundtrack goes silent -- just at the point at which our heroine has been prodded to explain her deepest feelings about her love for architecture. Is this just too precious for the likes of our own, culturally-deprived ears? Or was the screenwriter perhaps unable to quite render le mot juste? This would certainly be one question I'd ask Kogonada in a Q&A.

Otherwise, Columbus is a glory of a movie: quiet, commanding, and utterly beautiful to see. Running 104 minutes, it opens this Friday in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt. (Kogonada is said to be appearing for several Q&A at both the IFC Center and the NuArt during the coming weekend. Click here and here for the schedules. I'm not sure how one man can be in two place at once -- maybe via video? -- and on separate coasts, to boot, but both theaters are claiming to have him.)

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