Thursday, August 24, 2017

A drama set in Columbus, Ind.

Columbus makes modern architecture as important as its characters.

The director who calls himself Kogonada (not his real name) previously has made short films inspired by directors such as Ozu and Wes Anderson. Kogonada's debut feature -- Columbus -- premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, where it received mostly glowing reviews.

Kogonada's love of Ozu shows in Columbus, a movie in which the camera often remains stationary and in which the actors, for the most part, perform with admirable restraint.

The movie is named for Columbus, Indiana, a city known for its modern architecture, buildings from the likes of Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and James Polshek sit improbably in the heart of this small Midwestern city.

Columbus and its architecture become a character (perhaps the most interesting character) in Kogonada's story about two people moving in opposite directions.

Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) has graduated high school but is stuck. She feels obligated to remain in Columbus to take care of her mother, a recovering meth addict played by Michelle Forbes.

John Cho portrays a Korean-born translator who arrives in Columbus because his father, an architecture scholar, has collapsed and fallen into a coma. Unlike Casey, Cho's Jin needs to come to grips with his past, not move away from it. He hasn't spoken to his father for a year.

It should be apparent from the opening shots that Kogonada has a strong compositional sense that's bolstered by cinematographer Elisha Christian's ability to bring calm, ravishing light to almost every scene.

As the story evolves, Casey and Jin develop a flirtatious friendship. She works in the town library and derives pleasure and solace from the town's architecture. Jin claims to have no interest in architecture, which probably has something to do with his inability to feel anything about his father's impending demise.

Kogonada adds two additional characters to the mix, an associate of Jin's father (Parker Posey) and one of Casey's library co-workers (Rory Culkin). The conversations tend toward the intellectual; these characters evidently are accustomed to channeling their feelings into thoughts that they can share more easily than emotions.

Richardson, last seen in M. Night Shyamalan's Split, plays a coming-of-age role, and Cho conveys the weariness of a man who has been fighting his demons for a long time. Both do fine work.

Always great to look at, Columbus nonetheless can feel boring, studied and overly composed, so much so that it made me hope that Kogonada would loosen the arty cords that may be binding him and that sometimes constrict this otherwise promising work.

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