In the 40’s through the 60’s, modernist architects such as Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei were hired by a diesel fuel engine company CEO to build spectacular churches, libraries, schools, etc. in a small town named Columbus in Indiana. Since then, the town itself has been left behind by globalization. However, these buildings retain their power and become the catalyst for the meeting and bonding of two people in Kogonada’s feature directorial debut Columbus, screened at the 2017 Galway Film Fleadh.
Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a recent high-school graduate living with her recovering drug addict mother (Michelle Forbes) meets Jin (John Cho), a book translator in his mid-30’s living in Seoul who flies to Columbus to care for his renowned architect father (Joseph Anthony Foronda), who has suffered a catastrophic collapse. Although Jin confesses that he is no expert in architecture and that he hardly cares for it at all, he encourages Casey to tell him why she loves the buildings of Columbus, asking her to spare him the tour-guide treatment and tell him why she connects with them on a personal level.
During their lengthy conversations, they open up to each other in surprising ways. She talks to him about her worries and concerns about her mother and her uncertainties; she doesn’t know what she wants to do, and whether she will ever leave Columbus. Jin opens up, somewhat more reluctantly, about his distant relationship with his father. In fact, throughout the movie, we understand that he is unable to connect with the pain felt by his old friend and, perhaps, one-time lover (Parker Posey).
Columbus is essentially unassuming, which is why it is so candid, powerful and honest. Rather than fall for the usual clichés, it is as sweet and sincere as a film about the blooming friendship between a male and female from two different generations can get.
Much is revealed in the dialogue, yet none of the secrets shared are too overbearing or shocking. While there is drama in the movie, Kogonada exposes it in respectful ways, sometimes by filming his protagonists from afar, or by making some of the dialogue inaudible. He also appears to be interested more in the ordinary problems of everyday life and a need to contextualize them intonwords (spoken out loud) in order to understand them.
There is also a sense of timelessness that permeates through this film. People talk to one another extensively, something that is arguably rare in today’s world and social media frenzy. Kogonada addresses a lack of attention span of contemporary times through a monologue by Casey’s smartly ironic but frustrated library colleague (Rory Culkin), as if the director knew outright that the film will require patience.
Kogonada’s filmmaking recalls the works of Yasujiro Ozu, whom he himself has quoted as an influence. Like Ozu, he appears to be interested in generational conflict and employs a style that subtly yet meaningfully defies the conventions of filmmaking and mise-en-scéne. He also shows a great awareness of space that makes the strange and wonderful setting of this little city as dramatic and bold as the sets of a German expressionist movie, acting as mirrors for the characters’ feelings.
Columbus also features excellent performances by the entire cast. Richardson particularly stands out, radiating warmth and humanity. Cho is the embodiment of sensibility and charisma. Support players are equally important: Culkin is witty and charming, while Posey, a constantly enriching presence of any film, is at her most effervescent; like an American Fanny Ardant. – ★★★★
COLUMBUS | 2017, USA | Drama | Directed by – Kogonada / Produced by – Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Chris Weitz, Andrew Boyd, Giulia Caruso, Andrew Miano, Ki Jin Kim / Written by – Kogonada / Cinematography – Elisha Christian / Edited by – Kogonada / Starring – John Cho, Parker Posey, Haley Lu Richardson, Michelle Forbes, Rory Culkin | Running time: 101 mins.