December 6, 2022

by Diana Cheng
AAP Film and Arts Writer

‘The Novelist’s Film’ directed by Hong Sangsoo. Photo courtesy of Cinema Guild

“The Novelist’s Film” works like a visual dialogue of Hong Sangsoo’s own style of filmmaking and the auteur’s creative process. The ninety-two minute feature is a stylish cinematic work in black and white, aesthetically meditative, and with a short two minutes of color towards the end, exuding natural beauty and meaning. This is Hong’s twenty-seventh feature, a quiet and personal revealing of his artistic perspective on filmmaking. 

Winner of the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival 2022 and an official selection of NYFF 60, “The Novelist’s Film” narrates the random encounters of a disenchanted published author, Junhee (Lee Hye-yeong) during her trip to visit an old friend who used to write but has now become a bookstore owner. Subsequent events see serendipity take hold leading her to a new path of artistic venture.

After dropping by her friend’s bookstore unannounced, Junhee visits a local point of interest for sightseeing. There she happens to meet again a film director who once was going to make an adaptation of her book but the project fell through as he couldn’t get the investors approval to go ahead. He had to yield to the investors’ dictate and dropped Junhee as they were the “top dogs”. While she isn’t angry with him anymore since anger can’t change anything, Junhee feels the director’s ambition for fame and success overrides his artistic pursuit. 

A walk in the park follows. There Junhee comes across a film actress Kilsoo (Kim Minhee) whom she admires. Interesting enough, Kilsoo is also at a stage where she has taken a respite to ponder on the career path she’s taking as an actor. Soon, Kilsoo’s nephew, a young film student happens to appear in their path. Upon chatting with each other, an idea bursts out from Junhee. She wants to make a film with Kilsoo as the actor in it and shot by her nephew, the young film student, with just a handheld camera. 

Here Junhee explains how she envisages her film project: “I want to record that just as it is, so everything has to be comfortable, everything has to be real.” A documentary? The young man asks. No, but it will be naturalistic. There’s a story which she will write, but “that story won’t prevent the real thing from emerging.” This exchange of dialogues between the writer, the actor and the cameraman well expresses Hong’s own artistic style. 

It’s interesting to note that, while her creative ideas might have come out of a rational mind, that Junhee arrives at this episode of planning her film project is a result of serendipitous happenings. The randomness of encounters and the twists and turns of life’s path could well have played a major role in igniting the spark that’s needed for any an artistic creation. A most naturalistic way of art making: letting life unfold. More revealing follows. The quiet and ponderous cinematography allows viewers to delve deeper into various issues of art making and the artist. A film of ideas wrapped in an aesthetically pleasing form. “The Novelist’s Film” is now released in select theatres across the US. Check out the dates and the locations on the distributor Cinema Guild’s website

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Contact Diana Cheng at [email protected], on Twitter @Arti_Ripples or her book and film blog Ripple Effects, rippleeffects.reviews

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