wed 30/11/2022

In Front of Your Face review - a day in the life | reviews, news & interviews

In Front of Your Face review - a day in the life

In Front of Your Face review - a day in the life

An ex-actress's return to Seoul is beatific and drunkenly raw, in Hong Sangsoo's latest

Under the bridge: Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung) and Jeongok (Cho Yunhee)

Twenty-four hours in the life of a Korean woman, Sangok (Lee Hyeyoung), are caught in scenes which feel like real time in Hong Sangsoo’s latest. Moments and personal connections fall in and out of focus, the film seems sober then drunk. Hong learned from old masters such as Robert Bresson, and there is a similar spiritual focus to objectively small, ineffable moments in his 26th film of a prize-winning career.

Sangok is a former film actress who has returned from the US to Seoul to stay with her sister Jeongok (Cho Yunhee, pictured below right with Lee). Though secretly carrying a heavy secret, she appears breezy as the pair go for a coffee, facing each other across a panoramic wide-shot at a café set in paradise-green parkland. Hong holds this gorgeous shot while his characters hit bumps and twists in conversation, thrown revealingly off-balance then recovering, exchanging vulnerabilities and real natures. A passer-by dawdles in the distance, alive too.

Wandering the city, Sangok meets a woman who recognises her from a glimpsed yet indelible role, and she’s invited into her childhood home, where there’s a slippage, a feeling of ghosts and the past returning.Lee Hyeyoung and Cho Yunhee in In Front of Your FaceSangok has a second appointment, with a master film director perhaps a bit like Hong, Jaewon (Kwon Haehyo), who wants her to appear in his next film. Far from the wealthy American success her sister envisaged, she worked in a liquor store, having long abandoned acting. The meeting is rescheduled and relocated, unsettling her with apparent indifference. But when Jaewon speaks of the profound impression certain old scenes made on him, saying, “I believe in your soul… I want to create a character that has your strength and light,” Lee Hyeyoung embodies that lost star, and In Front of Your Face becomes the homage he envisaged.

This is Hong’s set-piece, as the director sounds out his prospective star in an otherwise empty bar in late afternoon. Food is untouched, liquor bottles emptied and storm-clouds shade the room, as these strangers’ desires and designs play out. Heady promises are made, erotic currents simmer, and time becomes tangible, the conversation and characters so authentic the screen almost breathes.Kwon Haehyo in In Front of Your FaceI flashed back to a drunken scene in Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1976), and his early films’ drifting flow, seeming to quietly catch life in the raw, yet not simply realist. Here too, wit, absurdity and minds’ workings also spark on the limpid reels. When Sangok and her enraptured director leave the bar’s embrace, Hong holds her trenchcoated figure in romantic silhouette as her arm slips around his waist, and cinema and life entwine.

Sangok mentions she nearly committed suicide as a young woman, and the wisdom she’s retrieved from death’s nearness gives In Front of Your Face its title. “With every step I take on this earth,” she prays, “let me stay here in the present… let me see what’s in front of my face.” “Heaven” is here, in a world so beautiful “I could have licked it”.

Hong’s filmmaking philosophy is similar, not following conventional scripts but “thinking about the next day based on what I shot”. This film’s circularity and calm seem eastern to my western eyes, karmic and Zen. But Hong takes in the solid geometric strangeness of Seoul’s proliferating tower blocks, too, and human awkwardness grits the grace. It’s pure pleasure to watch his people.

Heady promises are made, erotic currents simmer, and time becomes tangible, so authentic the screen almost breathes

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters