New York Film Festival: The heart of conversation
The writer gives us a glimpse of the ongoing 58th New York Film Festival
Two masters, wildly different in style, returning with a film each is one of the most normal things about 2020. While Hong Sang-soo is prolific, his minimalism envied only by a young film student with a camera (or a phone!), Philippe Garrel returns with another of those scathing, yet poetic takes on modern love in classic black and white.
Both rarely veer away from their grammar that it is a wonder they continue to surprise. They use the same syntax, unique to each, to tell different stories, sometimes with the same actors. Many times, we know where they are going, but when it works, we cannot take our eyes off. Garrel with his meet-cutes turning into instant romance complicated by personal values and escapades, and Hong Sang-soo’s placid frames with occasional zooms, focusing on conversations around food and beverage with details wrapped in the exchanges.
Garrel's The Salt of Tears is an incisive look at the differences between the carefree and careless in love. It comes around to exploring the moral quandary of a man (Logann Antuofermo as Luc) - a budding cabinet maker following on the footsteps of his ageing father (André Wilms) - who can only remain a woman's lover for a day. He meets Djemila (Oulaya Amamra) in Paris when he is in the city for a university exam, begins to court her within seconds and then leaves her as easily as he leaves Paris. She refuses to play along with him in bed and though Luc doesn't show it, it casts a shadow on Luc and the rest of the film.
We live with Luc through vignettes of his father at their home, his father's unfulfilled dream of going to that university. His father loves his craft as much as he loves his son though what he creates with his hands are not for him. "Furniture is for people who settle, we are nomads" is a line the film - written with Jean-Claude Carrière and Arlette Langmann - trots out as innocuously as Luc treats his dalliances. It'd be wrong to say he feels that way about woman - treats them as furniture - because that's his default setting even with his father. He is a man who extends this furniture analogy to all relationships in his life, and it takes the weight of his experience with Geneviève (Louise Chevillotte) and Betsy (Souheila Yacoub), his equal in crime, to realise his limitations. The film also has one of the most kinetic and hallucinatory dance sequences filmed, choreographed by Caroline Marcadé.
In Hong Sang-soo's The Woman Who Ran, Kim Min-hee's Gam-hee is on a day out to meet her closest and long-lost friends. She makes it a point to tell each one of them that this is the first time in five years she and her husband are apart. Everyone gasps but the words slip out of her tongue like relief. The equivalent of looking inwards and going, "Finally!"
Almost every woman she meets is either alone or independent or both, and men rarely appear in The Woman Who Ran. When they do, they are complaining about something - a stray cat is scaring the man's wife and a stalker cannot take no for an answer. Another man is unable to take pointed scrutiny of his work or his dispensableness. All of them are dealt with and dismissed at an entrance, the film hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
Even the film's fringes hide women, we see one through a CCTV camera, she is alone with her dad, who is still coming to terms with her mother's elopement. The Woman Who Ran, as crisp as all of Hong Sang-soo films at 77 minutes, runs the gamut when it comes to concerns and apprehensions of women, like dating past a certain age or ageing in itself - "As I get older I wake up in the night to go to the bathroom," says her friend. Another woman, an artist, cannot come to terms with her loss of memory - "Why can't I remember names anymore?" she says, referring to names of famous painters.
Gam-hee is on a mission to investigate the lives of these self-reliant women and find out how they negotiate their solitude and whether she is capable of the same, her repetition of being away from her husband for the first time hinting at something larger. The film ends with Gam-hee watching cinema, an image of a receding tide, in an empty screening room. What's a more solitary exercise than watching a film alone in a dark room?