Today again I found myself with a little decision paralysis in picking what to watch. With the entire cinematic library as an option, it was hard to know where to begin. I only have three days between the conclusion of Oscar viewing and the start of SIFF, so like yesterday I chose a film that was of personal interest even if it wouldn’t be considered a blind sport by any traditional metric. The main difference between today’s viewing and yesterday’s is that yesterday’s film was the last film I hadn’t seen by a director, while today’s film was the second I’ve watched from a director I’ve want to see more from.
Hotel by the River (2019, Dir. Hong Sang-soo)
As blockbusters stuffed to the gills with loud action set pieces occupy an ever-increasing market share of the world’s films, I’m thankful that directors like Hong Sang-soo are around to create wonderful works of slow cinema. Movies that the most people would turn off after five minutes from boredom are frequently my favorites. The lethargic pacing creates a meditative experience that enhances my personal viewing experience. Hong builds on the natural meditative qualities of the film’s pace with a complete lack of non-diegetic music and black and white cinematography. This allows for limited distractions for the audience encouraging self-reflection.
While the specifics of the story, the little that there is, is largely unimportant the themes are the heart of the film those being fear of change. In this way, the hotel reflects a purgatory where the characters hide from progress. Ko Young-hwan (Gi Ju-bong) has been staying for them for two weeks and suffers from visions of death and creative blockage. A-reum (Kim Min-hee) fakes a burn injury and is distraught over a recent breakup. Both characters are visited by friends and family, but others are unable to convince them to movie on. When Ko Young-hwan is forced to leave the purgatorial hotel before he’s ready, he retaliates in a definitive way. Hotel by the River was wonderful experience for viewers with the patience to appreciate its minutia.