Columbus – Film Review by Frank L.
Stars: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey
The name Koganada is an adaptation from the name of one Kogo Nada, who was the screenwriter for Yasujiro Ozu, about whom Kogonada created a video essay. He has also made video essays on Wes Richardson and Stanley Kubrick amongst others. He therefore is a man who is imbued with a connoisseur’s knowledge of several leading film directors. Columbus is his first feature length film.
Columbus, Indiana is a relatively small town with an outstanding collection of modernist buildings. It is an architectural gem and a mecca for architectural enthusiasts. Elisha Christian, the cinematographer, frames every shot with meticulous care deeply conscious of the stark magnificence of the architecture in which or in front of which much of the story unfolds. Kogonada celebrates the magnificent buildings which populate Columbus.
Throughout the film Kogonada directs frames which are symmetrical. This is one of the glories of the film. Interestingly however when the two principals meet Jin (Jon Cho) of Korean extraction and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) she is fascinated by the assymetry of the facade of a church in front of which they are standing. Jin is visiting Columbus as his elderly father, an esteemed architect, is in a coma. Jin is lukewarm about architecture while it transpires that he did not have a particularly close relationship with his father. He is in Columbus as he has time to kill having been summoned by Eleanor (Posey Parker), his Dad’s long time assistant. It is important in Korean custom to be close by when an ancestor is dying.
Casey is fascinated by the architecture of her home town and already has an expert knowledge of it. But she has a determination to understand more about it. She too is stuck in Columbus but for very different reasons. She has deferred entering college as she does not wish to leave her Mum who is a recovering drug addict who now works as a cleaner. Their home, along an unpaved track, stands in stark contrast to the elegant lines of the gems of modernism. Jin makes clear to her that she should leave Columbus, that she could do far better elsewhere.
There are no moments of high drama. There is just an intelligent man and a young woman of enquiring mind trapped for very different reasons in a town of rare elegance. Because of their individual predicaments, they are able to communicate and enhance each other. While the story line is slight enough Kogonada has created a film of substantial authority with the glories of the architecture of Columbus combining with the outstanding cinematography of Christian to create a contemplative calmness of great substance. The power which Columbus generates is the sheer beauty it displays.