A second-generation Asian-American lauded video essayist for Sight and Sound, Kogonada has rolled the dice as a filmmaker, with the evocative critically acclaimed drama, Columbus. In the age of modernism, contemporary art has been sought as a stirring space for expression, imagination and escape. The film exhibits an individual’s nowadays struggle with alienation, desperation and the necessity of one’s pursuit for their fervours. A movie that can be encapsulated with the lead’s motto, “Modernism with a soul.”
I was exposed to a couple of Kogonada’s video essays for sight and sound so far, that all have been thoroughly moving and enlightening. Especially, his take on the Italian Neo-realism movement, that addresses the essence of perspective in cinema and the significance of conscious creative choices from those at the helm, which I found simply mesmerizing. Therefore, when informed that he had made a movie a couple of years ago, I was chomping at the bit to check it out.
His first feature is a very solemn and effusive character driven narrative that conveys our struggle with identity, and how disillusioning that existential pursuit may be. Thus, the loneliness and dejection it can emanate. As embodied through Casey, potently portrayed by Hayley Lu Richardson. We are introduced to Cassandra as she is nervously stuttering, dithering and smoking. Sacrificially refraining from going to college and pursuing her own dreams of becoming an architect to rather caretake her mother instead. Ironically on the other side of the pond is John Cho’s character Jin, whom is rather disavowed by his dying father and is stranded in Columbus pending the latter’s decease. Ultimately, it is often said that one finds refuge and empowerment in the most unlikely of places, and for our protagonists that is present within their interactions with each other.
A greatly immersive, articulate and mindful screenplay anchors this film, multiple scenes monumentally reaffirm integral concepts the film is revolved around. I was specifically fascinated by the attention span validity argument in the first act. That prompted the question of an individual’s passions and how that sets an artifice to what we may deem or dismiss as valuable. As pondered, “Are we losing interest in everyday life?”
Also, another remarkable sequence was the pensive scene in which the doctrine of art’s essence, in addition to exploring its role as a mean for escapism was funnelled through Casey’s retrospection when talking about her grief and sorrows, in a rather emotive dialogue unravelling the layered librarian and architect fanatic. In which “Architecture being this sort of healing art.” is argued. As Kogonada’s asserts in a 2018 interview with ‘The Believer’, “In a way, cinema is to me what architecture is to Casey. When Casey feels she’s suffocating, architecture allows her to gather a sense of life.” Akin to the creator, the character also finds catharsis in the arts; in which parallels are drawn to how similarly pivotal and tonic these artforms are to their anolytes. Or how the director-writer beautifully reaffirms why he wanted this to be his first film, “I think of cinema as the art of time. Architecture is the art of space (…) both constructing our sense of emptiness.”
Kogonada’s very eloquent and perceptive manner of expression, simply put is ornate and moving. Whether that be reaffirmed in a five to ten-minute video essay or in his first venture as a filmmaker, nevertheless is what in my eyes is his instrumental trademark. Hence, in this instance is paramount to why the movie is so indulgingly relatable. As portrayed viscerally by his vulnerable, layered and empathetic characters, and their thought-provocative discourses; that range from questioning if Asians speak English, to mocking tour guiding and the philosophical value of therapeutic architecture. What is fascinating about that certain dynamic, that truly drives the film is how it incarnates a different type of love. Yes, both Jin and Casey love each other, however it isn’t your usual fairy romance, nor a platonic friendship in the traditional sense. But rather, its sense of transience is what exudes this allaying factor when they finally meet one another, love takes many forms, often cultivated to be an eternal romance. Whereas here it thwarts that belief we have constantly been accustomed to. By showcasing an affection that may be ephemeral, albeit is still intimate, valid and profound. Moreover, denoted by Kogonada, a fawning admirer of the great Japanese filmmaker, Yasujirō Ozu. His reverence was so great to the extent that before pursuing a career in the film industry, Kogonada took a PhD in film studies where he would have endeavoured to write a dissertation on the late Japanese’s films, which “haunted him”. That enthrallment he explains incited his desire to explore a scope Ozu usually questioned in his own complicated love stories decades ago, “Is it possible to have transitory soulmates? A connection defined by temporality?”
Credits should also be given to the admirable technicality of Columbus. The eponymous placid city is depicted under a quite naturalistic lens. Owning up to its epithet as “the mecca of modern architecture” this is the epitome to any architect guru like Casey. It is also remarkable to mention how the film encaptures the dichotomy of how such a contemporary picturesque display of the city isn’t bereft of some run-down infrastructure that is equally as eye-catching and telling overall was a subtle contrast that I enjoyed viewing.
All in all, the first instalment in Kogonada’s resume may not be perfect, but it’ll be surely remembered as an imposing, solid and touching launch to what is hopefully a prosperous and long-lasting career. That is behoving to the person off-screen’s passion and his enthrallingly deep acumen towards the on-screen magic of cinema, where he expresses, “films give me breath”. A freeing formative art he himself is now invested in crafting, as an up and coming filmmaker.