By Monica Delgado

In In front on your face, one of Hong Sangsoo’s films released last year, Lee Hye-young plays an actress who returns to her country due to a critical situation that gradually reveals itself in the film. Clearly, due to the climate, the tone, the gestures and dialogues of the characters, we are in the branch of Sangsoo’s films where there is a dramatic component (in this case, the farewell, the announcement of death), with an intention more thoughtful than his other fresher, more casual-looking films. While in The Novelist’s Film (So-seol-ga-ui yeong-hwa, 2022), another side of the coin appears.

In this new film by Sangsoo, which was presented as part of the official competition of this Berlinale 2022, the forms of a fresh comedy appear, by the hand of Lee Hye-young herself, who plays an equally famous writer in a remarkable way. who takes advantage of the first meeting with a young actress (Kim Minhee) to launch an idea that he had carried for years: to make a film. This look of subtle ‘comedy’ emerges from the first minutes, from the charismatic presence of the writer who arrives at a bookstore, who meets a friend again, who learns some verses in sign language or from an informal walk through a park where meet new friends. Thus, Lee Hye-young becomes the axis of the variations or correspondences of two recent films that can be seen as front and back, from the point of view of this exciting female character. Both In front of your face and The Novelist’s Film are performances and stories of bonding between female characters, whether from the filial or from the amical, marked by chance.

As in different films by Hong Sangsoo, again in The Novelist’s Film we are faced with a well-known aesthetic of friendship. The South Korean filmmaker resorts to the idioms of his visual universe, the typical use of the zoom in, the reiteration of some locations, walking or wandering as propitious paths for encounters, fixed shots that allow attention in dialogues, some humorous moments under the influence of soju or that reveal the sensitive spirit of their characters. And as viewers who know his expressive motives, this new film fits nicely into his style, to offer a portrait from this idea that doesn’t seem so far-fetched, to make a film, to go from the world of writing to that of gesture, to that of glances, or that of some flowers that are delivered to illuminate the entire screen.

Although everything is ascribed to a terrain visited several times, it is interesting how Sangsoo designs here, from his well-known technical minimalisms, to a protagonist tailored to the male characters writers and filmmakers (with self-referential echoes) that appear in his previous films. And as often happens in his previous works, in The Novelist’s Film the elective affinities that are established between some characters are not completely marked by the seal of the perennial, on the contrary, each event (or like the beautiful ending) succumbs to the power of the unexpected, whether it be a concrete fact, a feeling or an uneasiness in the air.

The Novelist’s Film is made in a more tense black and white than usual and there is a shift towards color that functions as a border between fictions. It is Sangsoo’s way of immersing us in the universe of the novelist’s film that arises in the conversations and that comes from the world of daydreaming, from the desire to extend creation and forms of expression, and that little by little, after some ellipses, can materialize itself from the apparently simple. Without a doubt, one of this Berlinale’s most wonderful films.

Official competition / Silver Bear for best direction
Script and direction: Hong Sangsoo
Photography: Hong Sangsoo
Editing: Hong Sangsoo
Music: Hong Sangsoo
Sound design: Hong Sangsoo
Sound: Seo Jihoon
Producer: Kim Minhee
South Korea, 2022, 92min