Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Yeonghwa ’12: From Seoul to Varanasi
Yeong-woo is a book publisher, so he must be immediately suspect. He is indeed engaged in an illicit affair
with one of his writers. Yet, his
unassuming wife may just be mixed up in something more nefarious in Jeon Kyu-hwan’s
From Seoul to Varanasi (nsfw trailer
screens today as part of the 2012 edition of Yeonghwa: Korean Film Today, now underway at MoMA.
his characters are mostly late middle-aged, Jeon sees no reason why they cannot
have sexually charged love affairs, showing viewers Lee and his mistress
Su-yeon full-frontally nude and entwined in just about every position in the
book. In contrast, his wife Ji-yeong
seems naturally more demur. Perhaps that
is one reason why feels a kinship with Kerim, a devout Lebanese Muslim
immigrant she befriends through an unlikely chain of events. Though Kerim finds himself increasingly
attracted to the sensitive Ji-yeong, his radicalized associate is always there
to keep him on the straight and narrow.
something is clearly about to go very wrong.
Jeon’s fractured narrative makes it deliberately difficult to establish
a clear timeline, but it is clear a major terrorist bombing will take place in
the holy Indian city of Varanasi that will in some way affect Ji-yeong. Just who was manipulated into doing what are
the questions Jeon will teasingly reveal, but a judicious application of Occam’s
razor will not lead the audience far astray.
festival darling for his Town trilogy,
Jeon is definitely pitching his material for an exclusive international
audience. His temporal shifts are likely
to madden casual viewers. However, there
is some substance to the film beyond its narrative exhibitionism. Ideology clears plays a subtly corrosive role
in the events at hand. However, Varanasi is really more of a character
study—quite a frank one, in fact.
his myriad of faults, it is hard to condemn Lee. After all, at one point he takes his mistress
to a blues club. Self aware of his
insecurities and hypocrisy, he is a complicated figure, who tries to do the
right thing when he realizes how deep his estranged wife is in over his
head. It is a breakout performance for
the very tall Yoon Dong-hwan. Choi
Won-jung is also quite compelling in a quiet way as Ji-yeong. Frustratingly though, Jeon is often working
at cross-purposes with his cast, distracting viewers from their often meaty
performances with his constant shifting back and forth.
Aside from some picturesque shots of the teeming
Varanasi streets, Jeon largely focuses on the acutely personal throughout the
film, embracing its low budget aesthetic.
It is a thoughtful work featuring some truly significant screen performances.
If anything, Jeon just tries too hard to put his auteurist stamp on the
proceedings. Recommended for very select
audiences for it insights into infidelity, a rather chilling depiction of
Islamist extremism by art-house standards, and the performances of its
primaries, From Seoul to Varanasi (a.k.a.
just plain Varanasi) screens tonight
(9/27) and Sunday (9/30), as Yeonghwa continues at MoMA.
Labels: Jeon Kyu-hwan, Yeonghwa '12