Silver Bear for Best Screenplay winner
The Hong Sang-soo backlash begins here. No, not really – his latest film presents another shimmering set of black-and-white story fragments (judiciously numbered), the calling card of this remarkably prolific filmmaker. In recent times, Hong has honed his preferred form and its complementary style: short, spry, elliptical vignettes of mostly static shots, capturing characters in generally polite conversation. These amount to acute observations of domestic dynamics (often people talking indoors), but try to suggest something more inedible and profound about the nature of human affairs.
Introduction insinuates the various connotations of its title within this established mode: different generations introduced or reintroduced to one another, talking at cross purposes, wary of being misunderstood. The opening has a young man with theatrical ambitions, Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho), visit his acupuncturist father, who is treating a celebrated actor. From this point, Young-ho’s relationships to these men, as well as those he has with his mother and girlfriend, Ju-won (Park Mi-so), are situated among gentle and subliminal refractions, undulating forwards and back throughout the 66-minute narrative. These shifts are literalised in the dénouement, where two lovers appear to meet on the beach, by the promenade and in front of the subsiding waves, functioning as mere residuals of the elemental sea.
The important figure Young-ho doesn’t meet is a self-assured and “pretty” artist, played by Kim Min-hee, whom the camera holds mostly at middle distance, an ethereal guide – “the cheap hotels here are really cheap” – for the apparently innocent Ju-won, who has taken to Berlin to study fashion. The spatial moves between the German capital and South Korea are effortlessly rendered, because each scene, depicted in pristine and mineral monochrome, drains into the next. Casually supplied motifs invite focus and probably fruitless interpretation: the sharing of cigarettes, framed in thwarted fields of vision, occasional creeping zooms and slow pans. These provide plenty of wry ironies and instances of obstructed dialogue, but the empty spaces afforded by Hong’s compositions hint at sombre tones yet to come.
Some caution might be applied to the setting, which includes the immediate area around the festival Palast, as if the whole thing were an in-joke for the regular Berlinale clientele. Yet the studied and exquisite arrangements placate and embed themselves in the viewer. They climax in a fraught restaurant re-encounter between Young-ho and the actor, who should have answers for the fledgling thesp about his parents’ marriage breakdown and his own stop-start career. Fuelled with soju, the home truths flow, but instead of platitudes about infidelity, they defend the essence of life and play. The problem of art and artifice is eternal, Hong suggests through the sodden authority, who exasperatingly asks the characteristic naïf before him and the eager moral puritan at home: “What should we do about you?!”
Introduction (Inteurodeoksyeon) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Introduction (Inteurodeoksyeon) here: