Saturday 16 May 2020

Hotel by the River [2018]

Hong Sang-soo’s typically meandering and conversational work Hotel by the River – made in the same year as his incisive gem Grass – is a film suffused with guilt, mortality, suppressed bitterness and desperate attempts at clinging to someone. Its tone and tempo are also a tussle between aimlessness, torpor and the flash points of relationships. Hence, while these facets, including the oscillating tempo, filled it with affecting moments, it was also beset with formal laxity, and lack of stylistic ingenuity or self-reflexive humour, that have marked Hong’s best works. Further, in place of quirky romantic relationships, there are rather staid familial and platonic ones here operating largely in parallel at an idyllic hotel at a wintry locale – the first strand portrays the emotionally complicated relationship between Young (Gi Ju-bong), an ageing poet lodged in the hotel temporarily, and his two estranged sons who’ve dropped by in a fleeting attempt to bond with him, viz. Byung-hoo (Yoo Joon-sang), a sensitive filmmaker, and Kyung-hoo (Kwon Hae-hyo), an assertive, recently divorced man; the parallel strand is centered on Sanghee (Kim Min-hee), a young woman who’s gone through a bad break-up and has taken refuge here as a means to escape, spending moments of solitude with her friend Yeonju (Song Seon-mi). The film was strewn with a sense of casual intrigue – for instance, Young’s refusal to allow his sons to come up to his room and his propensity for silently taking off leaving them in the lurch, Kyung’s unwillingness to disclose his divorce to his father, Byung’s sentimental flare up while drunk on soju, and the intimate cuddling that Sanghee gets from her beautiful older friend Yeonju that was just shy of homoerotic.

Director: Hong Sang-soo
Genre: Drama/Family Drama
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

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