Nugu-ui ttal-do anin Haewon / Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013)

19 08 2013

For the past ten years, Hong Sang-soo has been consistent, but at the risk of seeming a little repetitive. Take a look at any review for this film or anything else he’s released recently and you’ll read plenty about him returning to his major themes. Some unrest can be detected here, as Hong hasn’t channeled all of his positives into something especially new. I’ve felt similarly, but I think he’s finally won me over again. This is his best film in years and it’s exciting because it isn’t a return to old form, but instead the most engaging work he’s done in his “new” conversation-driven style.

1

Haewon reunites with her mother, but it’s only for a short time. The two share a nice afternoon together but her mother leaves the next day for Canada. Feeling lonely, Haewon gets together with Lee, a married professor with whom she has an on-again/off-again affair. The two run into Haewon’s classmates at a bar, where their affair becomes known. Lee’s intentions are obvious: he wants to run away with Haewon, but she wants to, pardon the cliche, live her own life. The dilemma comes from the fact that she’s not entirely sure what that entails.

2

The title here should prepare us for Haewon having to say goodbye to her mother, but their moments together are heartbreaking and jarring. It’s rare for a film to hit such an emotional point this early on. With Hong’s detached camera, it’s entirely possible that most viewers won’t even see anything upsetting about the mother-daughter relationship. Hong’s dialogue is as perfect as it’s ever been. Her mother tells her “living is dying” which sounds like pretentious nonsense as I type it out here but still flows organically in the conversation.

3

Maybe I’ve worried too much about Hong being “uncinematic” in his most recent films to notice how wonderful the dialogue is, but he really achieves a wonderful balance here between sentimental confessions (“I want to do everything with you”) and sharp non-responses (“Whatever.”) It’s important to the character of Haewon because she is constantly being schmoozed by men, men who she wouldn’t even bother talking to if she wasn’t so lonely in the first place. Her interactions with men aren’t tragic and terrible, but they build up to an arch of constant disappointment.

4

The men here are still typical of the Hong universe. That is to say drunk and filled with rage and jealousy. In one of the film’s most telling moments, Lee castigates Haewon for sleeping with a classmate. The hypocrisy is easy to spot: Haewon slept with someone she was dating while Lee himself is having an affair with one of his students. Still, his outbreak doesn’t even seem that bizarre. He throws a scene like a manchild (Hong’s hallmark, really) but his anger is “okay” in a world where men see Haewon for only her sexual potential.

5

Lee’s tirade is maybe the most revealing moment in the film, and that’s a weird claim to make sense it is one that is more about him than Haewon. It’s an important illustration of the men in her life, though. The other potential relationships are introduced and end quickly and breezy. She has cute conversations, that end up with the men being too aggressive. Hong’s repetition is one of his strengths (both within individual films and throughout his career) and the repeated image of an exhausted Haewon laying her head against the table contains everything one needs to know here. Haewon is restless and sad, and there doesn’t seem to be any escape.

6

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