|Kape neuwareu 2009 South Korea Cafe Noir|
The guy glues the two parts together. He’s bummed out in the first half, and then from serving as confidant to the differently-bummed-out woman in the second half he gets to feel better. He delivers good character arc and the juxtaposition in styles of bummed-outedness is told and executed well. But the story doesn’t matter.
Cafe Noir is a linear quilt of set pieces and cinematic indulgences, vignette style. There are more than a half dozen scenes you could call music videos, gorgeous music videos with great music: Bach chorales, Korean indie funky dub, opera, Chinese avant garde. The whole film is very melancholy and these “music videos” barely raise its temperature. Except one. A dance number near the end to the middle eastern grooves of Bill Laswell. The song, not from the film is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzIKHG-ohz4&list=PLCDB9F9B9FA8A20B6
This film is the first born from a guy who was a leading and influential film critic for more than two decades; an intellectual type critic steeped in the French New Wave who doesn’t think much of films that simply entertain. There’s a short interview with him at Hancinema http://www.hancinema.net/film-critic-puts-his-reputation-on-the-line-i n-directing-debut-27040.html worth reading.
The two parts of the film are based on stories by Goethe and Dostoyevsky, and most of the dialog is very literary if not poetic. Beyond the inspirations and homages to great works of art, Cafe Noir is also steeped in gobs of Kim Ki-dukian religiosity and the academic musings on love of Hong Sang-soo, with plenty of nods to contemporary Korean cinema thrown in. There’s a scene by the Han river where the uncle of the little girl who was killed in The Host talks about his feelings of loss. So Meta. The forlorn star of the second half is Hong regular Jung Yu-Mi. And it’s not by chance. The scene where she says *beep* you, like you know it all!” will make Hong fans howl. There are also uncredited cameos from other Hong regulars as well as Beautiful’s Cha Soo-Yeon.
Viewers of the film familiar with Goethe, Dostoyevsky and Classic Film auteurs will have a different experience of it than I did. All of that was lost on me (except for some red balloons). What struck me throughout the film was how much it reminded me of early Hal Hartley, the Director who famously said (something to the effect of) “I don’t want people to act in my films. I want them to deliver lines.” I imagine my feelings of the connectedness to Hartley are really once removed from the inspirations that informed Hartley's own work.
Back to the Bill Laswell dance number. Hal Hartley was a personal hero of mine back in the day. So two things were happening for me as I watched Cafe Noir: the sense that the director is also familiar with, if not fond of, Hartley; and a wonderful resonance with the director’s great taste in music. I loved all the musical interludes in the film and was sure that if I were familiar with the genres of music he was picking from that I would have picked the same songs ... I was sure he was going to pick some obscure number I'm familiar with and love as well. And then two and a half hours into the film, BANG! Not only did he pick a song I know and love but he delivered it just like Hal Hartley did in Simple Men with Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing" (and Surviving Desire). The actors just get up and dance to it. This connection made the film very personal, like the director made it just for me.
I’m not sure I’ve made it clear that Cafe Noir is stunningly gorgeous. I put it in the same category as Tran’s Vertical Ray of the Sun and Myung-se Lee’s M. You can’t watch the film without acknowledging the mastery of it’s Audio/Visual makeup.
Finally, I confess I had a couple aborted attempts to watch this film. The opening scene is a 5 minute take of a girl staring into the camera eating a cheeseburger. A whole cheeseburger. The second scene is a Koyaanisqatsi-esque trip around Seoul. I punted twice. As pretentious as it is, after finally watching the whole film I’ve never felt more familiar with Seoul. The film captures the beauty and blemishes of the city better than anything I’ve seen before.
Cafe Noir is pretentious. It’s grandiose and overwhelming. It’s punishingly thick and multi-layered. It’s over three hours long and languidly paced. Characters in the film don’t talk to one another the way normal people do, they deliver lines. Ten year old girls quoting Goethe and pontificating about love with more wisdom than I'll ever possess is only the beginning.
Cafe Noir is the most amazing film experience I’ve had in years.
Ha! The first time I tried watching it I made it about 2 minutes into the cheeseburger scene and put it back on the shelf thinking it was the most pretentious and stupid bunch of BS I'd ever seen. I have no idea why I tried to watch it again, but I did, this time skipping the burger bit. Well, the next scene is just vacation photos around Seoul. Back on the shelf. I inexplicably came back for a third try, skipping past the burger and home movies. Now there's a few people hanging their heads, whispering sad nonsense. Oh man. Somehow I left it on until the scene where that guy sits on the park bench next to the woman with the mysterious gift box. That scene is one of the more uncomfortably gross stalker-y, creepy guy hitting on a girl scenes I can remember. Then the BJ scene in the dark movie theater where that girl from the bench says "I love sucking c0ck, *beep*!n A". That cracked me up, and I figured maybe there's something here.
Not that you are going to try this again but, I'm very specific in calling this the 'most amazing film experience' I've had, as opposed to the 'best film ever made' (M (2007)). I felt, while I was watching it and after it was over, that I was witnessing the history of all pretentious classic great movies. And by that I mean mostly the French New Wave that I know nothing about and care about even less. The guy who made Cafe Noir is a film critic for thirty years, steeped in all that classic crap, an intellectual snob who famously said that films meant to entertain aren't worth watching.
Somehow I concluded, and was able to live with, the notion that every scene in the film meant something. I don't know what, and I don't care, but the feeling that they did intrigued me. And the little girls in the movie, I don't think they actually say anything. They just recite lines from Goethe. I don't know what I think about that, but allow me to digress here and say that I've always loved it when a film can pull off having actors obviously not talking the way normal people would talk--they just recite lines. Seems like a terrible idea, and would mean horrible acting (which it usually does to people who don't get it/like it). Examples would be the stuff Aaron Sorkin writes, most of what David Mamet does, and, most lovely for me, the early work of Hal Hartley--who famously said he doesn't hire actors to act, he hires them to recite lines. In my first review of Cafe Noir I went on about how much it reminded me of Hal, and felt like falling down and giving thanks to god when they do the dance number (and I use that term loosely, but that's what it is) near the end of the film. That's when I realized that there is no way the guy is paying homage to Hal Hartley, but that both Hal and this guy were paying homage to some other film in the pretentious classic great film tradition. So all of this is a bad idea unless you're brilliant enough to pull it off well. Tomato/Tomoto, ya know.
So I didn't get anything about what this guy was doing, but it all just made the film feel more substantive. And/but most importantly, I'm not giving it high marks because it must be, or probably is, full of depth. I genuinely got hooked on the characters and their stories. It's two, two, two nice stories in one of unrequited love. And once it gets going the photography is gorgeous (zelena probably wouldn't like it because of the camera they used, but ...). And the music is awesome.
Summary: Young-Soo (Shin Ha-Kyun) and Mi-Yun (Kim Hye-Na) are teachers at the same school and also lovers. Young-Soo has now lost interest in Mi-Yun. While travelling, Young-Soo meets a student's mother also named Mi-Yun (Moon Jung-Hee). Young-Soo has an affair with Mi-Yun and falls in love with her, but is eventually dumped by her. After the break-up Young-Soo feels desperate. By chance, Young-Soo sees Sun-Hwa (Jung Yu-Mi) on the street and feels something for her. While following her, Young-Soo saves Sun-Hwa from a man chasing her. Sun-Hwa then tells her love story to Young-Soo. They promise to meet the next day, but Sun-Hwa asks Young-Soo to not love her. Since then, in order to gain her love, Young-Soo delivers her letter to a man. Young-Soo feels loneliness ...