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Review: In Water

In Water—the most recent exercise in minimalism from South Korean indie auteur Hong Sang-soo—is intentionally shot entirely out-of-focus. While the early marketing, publicity, and media coverage attributed this creative choice to the director’s own deteriorating eyesight (reminiscent of Derek Jarman’s hauntingly poetic Blue), it’s also thematically appropriate: the story’s protagonist, after all, is an amateur filmmaker willing to spend his life savings on the production of a low-budget short movie for which he has not yet written a script—or even developed a concrete premise. The hazy, blurry, indistinct imagery therefore reflects the character’s lack of artistic vision—and the ambiguity of his motivations.

Beyond this obvious cinematographic gimmick, In Water is otherwise rather typical of Hong’s work; from its long takes to its static compositions to its circuitous dialogue to its postmodern framing device to its excruciatingly languid pace, it is subtle with a capital “B”—which certainly won’t appeal to every viewer’s sensibilities. The question, then, becomes: “Does the unconventional presentation elevate the material?” And honestly, being a relative Hong Sang-soo neophyte… I don’t really feel qualified to provide a satisfactory answer; his style is an acquired taste, and I’m not confident that I’ve sampled enough of his previous dishes to accurately judge how this latest flavor compares. Perhaps I’ll revisit it after further refining my palate…

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