Claire’s Camera (Hong, 2017)

Ah, yet another deceptive bonbon from our favourite South Korean auteur. And an odd one, at that, since the soju-drinking is kept to a minimum, and we’re planted in France this time around—more specifically, in Cannes, during its prestigious annual film festival. Hong’s favoured muse, Kim Min-hee, plays timid film saleswoman Man-hee, who is abruptly fired by her supervisor one afternoon for not having enough “honesty.” Whatever the hell that means. Dispirited, she roams around the coastal town until she comes across the kindly Claire (Isabelle Huppert), an amateur photographer and poet with a natural curiosity for the strangers she meets. The two hit it off and spend the day together, neither of them realizing until later that they both know the film director Man-hee worked for. Claire, in fact, had struck up a friendship with him earlier on in the day. And who is the director’s lover but the very same supervisor who fired Man-hee! What a tangled web they weave.

What, at first, seems like a compact comedy of errors or a tangential riff on spontaneous relationships and ephemeral existences becomes a more fruitful study in finding the hidden meanings of life within the workaday. Claire comes to embody this philosophy in her hobby of documenting life in the moment, and then looking back at her work “very slowly” to glean its potential. The truth is often not far away, and it’s this truth that Man-hee comes to benefit from as she unspools the reasoning behind her abrupt unemployment. We change every moment, as Claire tells the director in one conversation. This change also includes a change in how we perceive the past, as well as how destruction can be perceived as creation. We make and unmake the time in which we live, and the knowledge we gain from this change builds and builds our own self-realizations. Hence, why the picture of us taken a second before is different from the one taken a second later. In that time, we’ve gained a sliver of reality, and that sliver has become a new building block in our formation.

So, as you can see, what seems like a breezy hour of Hong’s usual proclivities (extended conversations between two people, those inevitable zooms, men becoming whiny drunks, etc.) becomes something much richer in scope when looked at in retrospect. It’s certainly the most modest of his three works from 2017, not employing any temporal trickery or absurdist elements to play havoc with the viewer, but its own brand of loving honesty still counts for a lot. It’s the kind of film, moreover, which you watch once, then have the urge to watch again in order to experience it in another light. And, for that reason, I can’t help but admire it greatly.