The motifs of relationships, acting and nature are front and center in South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s newest cinematic jewel, Grass. As the picture makes its world premiere in the Forum section of the 68th International Berlin Film Festival, it is the emotions on and off screen which gracefully drive the action.
Hong joins forces once again with the effortlessly likeable Kim Min-hee after she wowed audiences at Berlinale last year with her flawless performance in On the Beach at Night Alone. The various relationships on display in this hidden café, situated in a traditional area of Seoul, provide Kim with an outlet so she can write and reflect about what she sees around her. The character even goes so far as to say how much she enjoys eavesdropping. Her candid and very direct approach when discussing male-female interactions with her brother’s girlfriend – and in response to an older man making a pass at her – come across as charming, whereas with another actor it would come off as rude.
The swells and lulls of the romantic and dramatic classical pieces perfectly compliment the overall tone. The unseen café owner only plays classical music, which the director utilises in a most surprising and well-timed manner. This musical editing goes hand in hand with the excessive consumption of the Korean liquor soju, leading to more heated discussions. Drinking – often used in Hong’s films to open the flood gates – is toned down here compared to some of his earlier works, although it’s just as authentic and unapologetic.
Shooting in black and white is nothing new for the auteur, but in this particular case it adds a more serious dimension as suicide is discussed on at least three separate occasions. Acting and theatre are also discussed at length, which tends to lighten the mood. Cinematographer Kim Hyungkoo and Hong reach a new level in this collaboration; the visually concise manner – with characters taking silent moments with potted vegetables outside the cafe – is such a pleasure to watch. The director’s signature long takes and panning with ever so slight zooms delicately balance the narrative structure. One particular pan to a shadow on the wall adds a unique quality to an intense scene.
Coming in at a mere 66 minutes, Grass will surprise audiences because it’s rare to find so much emotion and substance in such a compact piece of cinema. It might be short but it’s undeniably appealing.
Grass does not have a UK release date yet.
For further information about the 68th Berlin Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for Grass here: