Refined, Entertaining and Minimalist

in 66th Locarno International Film Festival

by Cristina Trezzini

At this year’s Locarno Film Festival the Golden Leopard for Best Director went to Hong Sang-soo for Our Sunhi (U ri Sunhi). The refined, entertaining and minimalist comedy was mostly appreciated by the female audience, who identified with the young and beautiful protagonist Sunhi (Jung Yumi) — a dreamy, recently graduated film student who drifts through the streets, bars and parks of Seoul. She casually encounters three men of her life: an ex-boyfriend, a graduate student colleague and an ex-professor (Kim Sangjoong).

She wants to leave for the United States to continue her studies (incidentally, Hong Sang-soo also obtained a bachelor degree in the US), but she seems uncertain, insecure, and appears to want to ask each of her three suitors their opinion while playing a game of seduction full of promises, rivers of alcohol (they drink a lot in the film) and break-ups.

The South Korean director plays at turning the courting of the three suitors into the ridiculous and grotesque, making them repeat the same set phrases when hoping to seduce Sunhi. The audience observes a continuous maze of conversations and situations, and a repetition of encounters which, at the end, will offer a different image of the young lady.

Hong Sang-soo shows his mastery at combining lightness and seriousness, drunkenness and existential problems, while not hiding his sympathy for the young cineaste protagonist, who is torn between the need to seduce, to find her own image through the eyes of others and to win her independence. It is for these reasons that the film garnered a real feminine “fan club” in Locarno.

The director’s work is perfectly balanced: skilful long takes with a unique zoom, elliptical narration which isn’t boring, never-ending, seemingly ordinary conversations that turn into profound universal reflections on human relationships, the need for affection, doubts, the value of the words and preconceived ideas.

The existential themes conveyed with a mastery and lightness recall the magnificent comedies of Eric Rohmer, the dialogues full of humour are like Woody Allen conversations, the refined feminism reminiscent of the unforgettable Nora Ephron. Elegance, subtlety, joy and cruelty, realism and the grotesque, all characterise the unique and exquisite touch of Hong Sang-soo.

The main competition jury, headed by Filipino director Lav Diaz, honoured Hong Sang-soo with the award for Best Director. His way of exploring the theme of feminine identity (even if Sunhi will remain a mystery — this being another merit of the script), and the difficulty of communication between men and women, is full of grace and charm. His ability to repeat the same lines, while changing the meaning, is masterful and the orchestration of the grand finale (which is best not unrevealed here) is worthy of such an award.

While Hong Sang-soo did not want to give interviews in Locarno, he said during the press conference: “My intention was to characterise Sunhi’s character through the eyes of three men; even if their opinion of her is similar, the emotions that emerge during the protagonist’s encounters with every single one of the three are very different. I believe that every person really is complex and that it is impossible to decipher someone with a phrase.”

Edited by Carmen Gray