Derik Badman's Journal

2019-10-06 08:06

Later yesterday afternoon, browsing the overwhelming amount of things I want to watch on the Criterion Channel, I ended up choosing Hong Sang-Soo's On the Beach at Night Alone. I watched his Claire's Camera back in August. This movie, though older, has a certain similarity. Again there is a young woman (an actress this time, played by the same actress Min-Hee Kim), who has recently broken up with an older movie director. In this case, he was married (I forget if that was the case in Claire's Camera). The movie starts with the actress in Germany, apparently having left Korea in the face of the rumours and scandal. The narrative style is low information, so all we know we mostly have to gleen from conversations. A second part of the film (clearly preceded by a "2" and a new set of actor credits) takes places back in Korea, when the actress returns to somewhere she used to live and meets up with old friends.

There's not a lot that goes on in the movie, some walking, mostly conversation. The actress expresses her feelings in ways that generalize them to everyone else, like she can't accept her feelings as applicable to her, but must project them onto everyone.

There are two elements that make this film more interesting than the Rohmer-esque situation and plotting. In the first section, this man comes up to the actress and her friend in the park and asks them the time. Later they see him again and walk away to avoid him. At the end of the first section, the actress, her friend, and another couple are on the beach. The actress is standing looking out at the water. Her and her friend talk, then the friend walks off to the other couple down the beach. The actress walks towards the water, almost like she is going to swim (though she is fully dressed). The camera pans away from the actress/water view to see the friend walking away. The camera pans back and we see the actress's footsteps and the water, but she is gone. It holds long enough that I looked into the water searching for some indication she was in the water, perhaps an impetuous swim or some kind of suicide attempt. Then the camera pans the other direction and we see a man walking away, carrying a person over his shoulder, clearly (based on the clothes at least) the actress. He walks a bit. The screen goes black. Part two starts with the actress watching the end of a movie in a theater.

The... kidnapping? attack? is never mentioned or even alluded too. The actress is back in Korea. A little while later the actress is with friends going into a hotel room she has just rented. There is a man on the deck fiercely scrubbing at the sliding doors in to the room. No one mentions him or even seems to look at him. When the actress opens the sliding doors to get some fresh air and look at the sea, the man adjust his position slightly and keeps scrubbing at the windows. I'd have to go back to see if the two men are the same, though in neither case do you get a good look at them, but I suspect they are, and they are clearly not a part of the... reality of the film. It's this strikingly strange invasion of the narrative, that I am at a loss to understand. (I looked a few reviews and most of them seem to completely ignore this part of the movie.)

The movies also, late in the plot, has a long sequence that seems to offer a coincidental meeting of the actress and the director as well as a long dinner conversation where they uncomfortably (both for the viewer and because they are at a table with a bunch of other people) discuss their relationship and feelings. It seems like the movie is offering up this resolution to the actresses's situation. She talks about doing another movie. The director is working on a new film, though earlier some of the actress's friends indicated he was not working anymore and was a bit of a mess. But then, when you think you've gotten too pat a resolution, the films exposes the whole sequence as a dream, a dream that offered no visual or otherwise cues that it was not reality. The actress wakes up on the beach. Rather, she is woken up, by an unseen man (is it that same man from before? I am lead to think so). The movie ends.

In the end, I'm not sure the interesting oddities of the narrative saved it from the rest. The movie is too much of the actress pontificating (sometimes while drunk) and also people who keep telling her she is pretty or charming. No one else really comes forward much to play against her, and I never felt like there was any sort of forward movement. It's like a Rohmer film without the moment of... decision... movement... that his movies tend to have.