New American Cinema | 2017 | 104 minutes
Stranger Says: Allow writer and director Kogonada to take you on a bizarrely fascinating, visually stunning, and subtly sensual tour of Columbus, Indiana’s modernist architecture. (Did you know there was a Columbus, Indiana? I didn’t, and I lived for a long time in neighboring Missouri and Ohio. Then again, I was drunk a lot.) Besides churches by Eero and Eliel Saarinen, libraries by I.M. Pei, and Will Miller’s enviable living room interior by Alexander Girard, the film centers on intersecting stories of familial responsibility. Jin (played with authority by John Cho) is a middle-aged man who should care that his father is dying in a hospital, but he doesn’t. Casey (played by Haley Lu Richardson, who turns in a phenomenally good, sophisticated performance) is a recent high-school grad who needs to cut the cord, but that’s complicated. The two shouldn’t like each other in any sort of romantic way, but that’s also complicated. Kogonada includes all the troubles Indianans face—meth problems, having to work two manual-labor jobs to pay rent, racial tension—but he smartly builds it into the characters’ motivations and backstory. Elisha Christian’s cinematography and Kogonada’s story reveal the deep relationship between architecture and people that many might miss. (RICH SMITH)
SIFF Says:Video-essay master Kogonada’s debut feature film showcases his deep knowledge of cinema. His deliberately paced drama unfolds as a gently drifting, deeply absorbing conversation that continues to reinvent itself. John Cho’s (Star Trek, Harold & Kumar) character takes the lead as Jin, a man stuck in Columbus, Indiana, while his father sits in a coma. Upon his arrival he encounters a young woman, Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen, Split), who had planned to see his father speak about architecture at her university. While Jin declares that he has no interest in architecture, the two form a bond as they tour the city, discussing its different distinctive architecture. Both are able to intimately explore with each other their conflicted emotions: Jin’s strained relationship with his father and Casey’s fear of leaving her previously drug-addicted mother alone to pursue her own dreams outside of the small town. Kogonada creates a piece that tests how we experience space and modern design. Although modern architecture can be seen as alienating, Kogonada demonstrates its spiritually healing effects for our lead characters and the way it provides a sense of home in this lyrical meditation on the modern world.
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