Review by Sean Boelman
The South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-Soo has made a name for himself directing quirky and quiet indie dramas. His newest, In Front of Your Face, shares a lot of qualities with the rest of the filmmaker’s body of work, but the extraordinary restraint exhibited by Hong and his cast is what makes this one of his best efforts yet.
The movie follows two sisters who reunite when one of them, an actress, decides to take a meeting with a director who has been wanting to work with her for years. Like a majority of Hong’s films, the priority here is not the plot, but rather, the conversations that it enables, allowing Hong to make an interesting examination of his themes.
What so often puts off viewers about Hong’s movies is their leisurely pacing, and audiences shouldn’t expect anything different from this. It’s a film where the conflict doesn’t come from external sources, but the struggles that the characters have with their own emotions. It’s a movie that points a mirror back at reality in a way that is very effective.
This film also comes with a dose of optimism that makes it pretty lovely. This is a movie about appreciating life, which hits even harder when one realizes that Hong made this film during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from Hong’s dialogue, but only if the viewer has the patience to listen.
Admittedly, the movie could have done a lot more with the dynamic between the two sisters. The first part of the film, which explores their relationship, is less developed (and therefore less compelling) than the second half between the actress and the director. There’s still something to be gained from this portion, but it isn’t nearly as profound.
The two lead actresses, Cho Yunhee and Lee Hyeyoung, both do a great job in their roles. Given the very conversational nature of the movie, it makes sense that their acting is quite naturalistic, and the chemistry they have with one another is great. Kwon Hae-hyo is also great, although his role is much more reactionary.
Hong’s visual grammar is just as restrained as his scripting, with a very still and quiet camera. However, this gives the very effective feeling that the audience is getting a personal glimpse into something that they shouldn’t really be seeing. It’s a subtly poetic approach that will have its share of both fans and detractors.
Those who are familiar with Hong Sang-soo’s work know exactly what to expect from In Front of Your Face, and will likely be left feeling fulfilled. It’s an altogether refreshing viewing experience, and one of Hong’s best.
In Front of Your Face screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which ran from July 7-17.