Kogonada / USA / 2017 / 100 mins
Viewed at the Edinburgh Filmhouse
This drama follows two people who meet in the city of Columbus, Indiana, where they are stuck for different reasons. Jin (John Cho) has flown in from South Korea to watch over his estranged father, who is in hospital after collapsing whilst visiting the city’s university to give a lecture on architecture. Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is a library worker who has given up her dreams of studying architecture at university in order to look after her recovering meth-addicted mother. As their initial conversations about architecture develop into discussions about their individual issues, Jin and Casey’s companionship seems to be evolving into something more.
Cho and Richardson both not only share an undeniable chemistry but also provide their characters with distinct personalities. Cho effectively conveys Jin’s suppressed resentment over having to leave his job to keep vigil and potentially mourn over a man who rarely acknowledged him, just to keep in with Korean tradition. Richardson, by contrast, captures Casey’s quiet frustration over her situation as well as her attempts to impress Jin with her knowledge of architecture.
Both actors are helped by director Kogonada’s script, which provides them with relationships with supporting characters that further flesh out their characterisations. Casey’s relationships with both her mother and co-worker Gabriel (Rory Culkin) help to illustrate her twin frustrations of having to act as a parent whilst wasting her potential by working in the library. Likewise, Jin’s complicated relationship with his father’s assistant Eleanor (Parker Posey) not only reveals a further motivation for Jin staying in Columbus, but also foreshadows his developing relationship with Casey. Both Culkin and Posey provide their characters with distinctive personalities that make them more than just devices to build out Jin and Casey’s characters.
Kogonada’s directorial debut focuses more on dialogue and performances rather than visuals; however, his inclusion of shots of the local architecture, which often relate to the conversations between Jin and Casey, helps to not only illustrate their discussions but also emphasise the distinctive nature of Columbus. This directorial decision further helps to make the city as important as the two protagonists, as opposed to just being a simple backdrop to the story. It’s touches like these that help to make Columbus distinct from other independent dramas and makes Kogonada’s debut all the more impressive.