by Jason Suzuki
Never having attended the Cannes film festival should not affect your enjoyment of Claire's Camera, one of three films Hong has released this year. I do suspect that there are some inside jokes for vets of the fest but thankfully the intricacies of the film lie with things other than insider baseball. Never having been myself, this is sort of a moot point.
Newfound muse Kim Min-hee is Manhee, is a sales agent fired during the festival. We see her work near a poster of Hong's Yourself and Yours. She's fired by her superior (Chang Mi-hee) because she is untrustworthy. Their conversation is like Hong's take on Kafka, with her boss never giving specifics on what exactly makes Manhee untrustworthy. This doesn't stop her from lamenting this new revelation about Manhee. Almost immediately it's clear this has to do with Manhee's drunken night with Director So (Jung Jin-young), who Yanghye considers herself to be his main squeeze. These three will run into Claire and her camera. Looking through her collections of photos taken during the festival they see each other.
The reunion of Hong and Huppert makes In Another Country (2012) a frame around the current picture. The reliance on broken English, the only way Huppert and the Korean cast can communicate with each other, gives the film a screwball feel. It also has the interesting of juxtaposition of what is said vs unsaid. They cannot express the intricacies of what they feel but at the same time are more direct because of it.
Like her character in their previous film, Huppert is just as breezy in her performance. Rarely disagreeing with her new friends and with nothing else to do but hang out and listen. Her only trait that at times grates on others is her instant camera. She posits that the photos she takes make the subjects of those photos see her differently as they are now different people. As far as allegories for the transformative power of cinema - and examples of Hong's explorations of the self - this is one of his more intriguing. That it comes from a film barely over an hour, no doubt a result of shooting quickly during the festival, makes this even more of a treat (see also: Hill of Freedom). Considering these films are Hong turning the camera on himself we see him differently each time, especially how he has tackled his recent extramarital controversy in his films. It's safe to assume that the subjects of these photos sees himself differently each time, one would hope after twenty or so films.
Claire's line of questioning when first meeting someone is whether they're an artist. It's Cannes, so the answer is usually yes. Despite being a teacher she also writes poetry. When people tell she is an artist too she shrugs it off. It's the groundedness that Huppert so consistently mixes with the contradiction of fully developed characters. Manhee is also not an artist but she too writes poetry in the form of songs. She sings a simple song to Claire. It's a song that rambles from one to ten in English, at the end nobody knows except that we use numbers to count.