Claire’s Camera is the latest film from acclaimed Korean director Hong Sang-soo and stars Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee. Because of the involvement of these two actresses, who both give amazing performances in two films (Elle and The Handmaiden, respectively) that play with complicated and often ambiguous relationships, I was eager to see this film. And while Claire’s Camera does focus on some complex relationships, its grounding is ultimately its undoing.
Hong Sang-soo’s style is often referred to as grounded and ultra-real, but it holds back this film. Claire (Huppert) meets a few Korean strangers while attending the Cannes Film Festival, including film director So (Jung Jin-young), a young assistant (Kim), and her film distributor boss (Chang Mi-hee). Like Claire, we come to piece together the puzzle of the connection between these three, especially as So and the assistant open up to her as a complete stranger.
The film makes a use of its setting to create a parallel between cultural exchange and communication between men and women. The characters are honest and open in a way that–combined with Hong’s reluctance to edit within conversations–reminds me of awkward conversations in low-level language classes. What may be intended as a meditation on the way artists bring truth to relationships and the world, and how an outsider’s view can give us new perspective, is hindered by an unnatural rhythm due to linguistic differences, making the film feel more silted and artificial than naturalistic.
And as Kim’s character packs her things and heads to the next incident in her life, the film seems to say that the only way we can be free to make choices is if we are honest and also do our best to understand the perspective of others. And while Claire’s Camera delivers this message, it pales in comparison to many other films tackling the same material. Rarely does the Cannes setting come into play, and empty streets and cafes serve as generic backdrops rather than lived-in places.
There’s a lot of good just under the surface in Claire’s Camera, but I spent the majority of the film trying to break through the awkwardness of the performances. Part of me feels like there is a greater point there, but most of me is more interested in making conversations in films feel like the way they should be, rather than the way they actually are.
Claire’s Camera opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.