By Mónica Delgado

As with some recent films of Hong Sang-soo, women are in the center of a series of tales where the usual stylistic motives of the Korean filmmaker remain present. But in a clear difference to the rest of his filmography, here, in this film at Berlinale’s official competition, the men are left behind.

Watching The woman who ran reminded myself of a Claire Denis film, Let the sunshine in, where Juliette Binoche’s character watches as her forty-something year-old lady’s lifestyle of freedom is affected due to the apparition of a gallery of hysterical male characters, which came as a fair reckoning towards the hundreds of representations of neurotic women that the history of cinema has given us. In this film we see Binoche dealing with whiny, childish and repressed men, who are seen by her as obstacles towards her path to happiness. Some of this is present in Sang-soo’s recent film, where Gamhee (played by an always sublime Kim Minhee) talks in three situations with three female friends she visits after a while, occasions where men are perceived as an interference in a feminine world of quietness, reflection and solidarity.

Hong Sang-soo, in his apparent simple and bare style, poses a lineal tale, marked once again by his usual zoom-ins, which stop here in faces of cats or faraway landscapes. Gamhee arrives to visit her friends and she tells the three of them that this trip has meant to leave his husband alone for the first time, after five years of relationship, since he considers that the couples must never be apart. Gamhee’s figure of a married woman is different to the one of her friends; artists, writers or managers that almost don’t depend on any relation of that kind with men. And that distance or malaise, is show by the Korean filmmaker through the arrival of a hysterical men, in each one of the scenes. In one of them, a neighbor asks people to stop feeding stray cats, in another one, a young lover resists the end of a relationship, and finally, we see the arrival of an ex-couple who doesn’t mind being accountable of anything.

All these aggressive and insistent men, appear outside of the spaces that women have built for themselves. This is why, the detail that each one of them mentions, affirming that they bought their own apartments is gravitating, since the choice of living single or after a divorce, is indispensable to be independent.

There are elements in The woman who ran which repeat in the three “episodes”, beyond the irruption of the hysterical men: there are animals, apples that are pealed, an old tune that seems to be playing from a record player, and surveillance cameras that register quotidian events which become extraordinary.

Maybe the final shot of Gamhee in a movie theater, manages to condense the search of these women in the film, or an inner, lonely and independent gaze, where a shot of the film the protagonist is watching concretizes this calmness, which is what the characters of this film yearn for. Hong Sang-soo, without circumlocutions, gives us a reading about women and their relationships according to present times.

Official Competition
Direction and script: Hong Sang-soo
Music: Hong Sang-soo
Cinematography: Kim Sumin
Cast: Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Song Seon-mi
Production company: Jeonwonsa Film
South Korea, 2020, 77 min