Film Review: Claire's Camera

Kim Minhee again proves herself one of today’s most easily likeable actresses in Hong Sangsoo’s waver-thin divertissement set at the Cannes Film Festival (although you never see the event itself).
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Cannes provides the setting for Claire’s Camera, the latest of director Hong Sangsoo’s ruminations on the sometimes rocky interpersonal relations among filmmakers. Young production assistant Manhee (Kim Minhee) finds herself unceremoniously fired by her boss, Yanghye (Chang Mihee), who mysteriously tells her that although she thinks she is a good person, she finds her to be dishonest. Yanghye refuses to give her reasons for her negative opinion, but the fact that Manhee slept with her lover, the director of the film they are working on, So Wansoo (Jung Jinyoung), might have something to do with it.

Now left with time on her hands, Manhee wanders around Cannes (looking great and sun-dappled, as elegantly photographed by Lee Jikeun) and encounters Claire (Isabelle Huppert), an arty schoolteacher given to recording things with her ever-present Polaroid camera. Claire has also had a random—if unromantic—encounter with the perpetually drunk So, and what she tells Manhee helps clear up the mystery of her sudden dismissal.

Something of a Korean Woody Allen, Hong is obviously still working out certain events in his private life: the actual affair with his muse, Kim, that reportedly ended his marriage. For a while, I thought I was watching some kind of adjunct to his On the Beach at Night Alone, which also dealt with a peripatetic Kim dealing with the aftermath of an affair with a married man. That film, although slight (and this one’s even slighter), had a certain structural intrigue and quirky but fulsome charm, mostly embodied by the low-key but irresistible charisma of Kim, in her way as fit an eccentric but coping modern-day everywoman as Catherine Keener.

Hong is again in debt to his actress, for her allure remains undiminished even playing basically the same role. Kim’s delicately precise comic timing comes to the fore in the funny, uncomfortable moment when Manhee insists on taking a selfie with her very uncomfortable boss to commemorate being fired. Childlike in many ways but a quietly bold free spirit as well, Manhee is a simple, sweet soul in a rough, cutthroat business and bears her sufferings lightly, self-pity being a quality alien to her. It’s small wonder that So and Claire are so drawn to her, and Kim is more than enough of an actress to not only contend with—but also blossom in—the incredibly long, unbroken takes that Hong loves to shoot, their natural-seeming ad-lib ambiance garnering nice dividends of human surprise and behavorial humor.

Huppert appears to be having a marvelous time, this most ubiquitous of French actresses playing an in-joke of a character, a wannabe artist apparently without a shred of talent but a very inquiring mind and cluelessly aggressive photographer, like Geraldine Chapin’s silly “Opal from the BBC” in Nashville. She doesn’t have much going on script-wise and the part is totally reactive, but maybe it was a relief for her to play this role after the usual dramatic and psychological sturm und drang she goes through in most of the heavy vehicles she carries.

There is little that Jung, weathered and handsome, can do with his hollow part of So, whose boozy loutishness and macho narcissism make him a highly questionable love object for two strong Korean women, especially when he savagely attacks Manhee out of nowhere for wearing—in his eyes—unnecessarily provocative short-shorts around their hotel in Cannes. Chang, however, is bitter perfection as an innate dragon lady, with ruthless killer ambition but an equally strong and aching need for love in her life, at any cost.

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