Director: Kogonada. Stars: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin. Runtime: 104 minutes
by Ted Zep, supernobueno.wordpress.com
Often referred to as the “Athens of the Prairie,” Columbus, IN is home to some of the most beautiful architecture in North America. Boasting less than 50,000 residents, the city houses the work of Eliel Saarinen, Ieoh Ming Pei, Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier and Harry Weese. Therefore, one would little suspect it to be the ideal environment to film a picture about relationships, ambition, denial and insecurity.
Starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, the story follows “Jin” (Cho) as he arrives to the city to be by the side of his elderly father, a noted scholar of architecture, who fell ill and is in a coma. We quickly learn that they don’t have the best of relationships. While in town, Jin encounters “Casey” (Richardson), a young, directionless library worker with a passion for architecture. The two strike up an awkward friendship based around visits to some of the exquisite structures to be found within the city limits. As the film progresses, the viewer is exposed to the deficiencies and insecurities of the two.
While thin on tangible plot points, director Kogonada instead concentrates on mood and the search for truth. Though it mindfully eschews the saturated hyper-reality of, say, Nicholas Winding Refn’s “NeonDemon,” the films are kindred in that they are constructed of picture-perfect backdrops upon which the narrative is allowed to unfold. The beautiful buildings provide stasis in an otherwise topsy-turvy world. From this base, Kogonada develops a sedate and metered tone to the film. It is depressed, but not necessarily depressing.
Additionally, “Columbus” seemingly shares DNA with Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic “Before Sunrise.” Rife with protracted conversations and unwilling personal revelations, the film plays as a stony companion piece to Linklater’s dialogue-driven relationship study. Dependent on chemistry and performance, Cho and Richardson are impeccable in their roles, particularly Richardson. She brings a scuffed familiarity to the simultaneously vulnerable and defensive Casey. Architecture represents security and structure to the desultory Casey. Richardson understands this about the character and embodies it.
As the characters unpack their issues, it becomes evident that they are inverted images of one another. Jin’s strengths compliment Casey’s weaknesses and vice versa. Because of this, they are equally flawed figures who are trapped by no one but themselves.
“Columbus” is a film brilliant in its simplicity. First-time director Kogonada has constructed a picture that pays homage to the stunning architecture of the city of Columbus, while simultaneously delving into the inner-turmoil of its protagonists. While briefly visiting other topics such as appropriateness, voyeurism, imagination and complacency, the film is at its best when it allows honesty to sprout from the cold concrete of pain.
Columbus is playing at the Nightlight Cinema from Sept. 15-21. Visit NightlightCinema.com for more information.
(photos courtesy of Superlative Films)