MAMI Sucheta Chakraborty

MAMI 2018: Grass review

★★★☆☆

A writer sits in a café listening in on conversations had over coffee and soju about serious and mundane matters. This 66-minute film is shot in simple black and white with Hong Sang-soo’s classic two-shots and zooms.   

Prolific South Korean arthouse master Hong Sang-soo has made another Hong Sang-soo film – economical in length, framing and setting with the action restricted mainly to a quiet, unnamed café, casting his regular actors and letting the conversations about love, death and writing flow, recur and intertwine seamlessly.

Each of the film’s conversation pieces revolve around a single theme which is arrived at in the meandering and languid manner typical of a Hong film. In the first, a young woman accuses the man sitting across from her of being responsible for a suicide before breaking down and claiming that they should both be held accountable for the same. Guilt and accusations are also the themes of a conversation taking place at another table, here with a slight reversal, as it is the man – drunk with his face never shown – who blames the woman sitting across from him for pushing a man they both knew to commit suicide. Elsewhere, an aging out-of-work actor repeatedly asks a woman if he can put up at her place only to be rebuffed each time while at yet another, an actor and writer discuss the act and process of writing. Classical music plays in the background almost discordantly as these conversations find their own cadences.

Never are all these conversations shown occurring simultaneously, each kept visually separate until the camera pointedly reveals a woman (Hong-regular Kim Min-hee) sitting alone in a corner with her laptop as the link connecting them. Each conversation is followed up by her voiceover where we hear her adding insights and perceptive notes to the dialogue she has just overheard and most likely borrowed for her writing.

We see her conversing too. As the only character in the film who is not paired up with another, she is free to interact on her own and does so first with an actor from one of the tables she is observing, then with her own brother and his girlfriend and finally with the group drinking soju in the same café at the end of the day. In these conversations however, she is as vociferous – even bordering on the rancorous ­– as she is passive and self-effacing in her role as writer, less willing to absorb and more eager to voice.

Hong’s films are a world unto themselves. Over and over again in their style and content they bear his signature, straying little from what has already come before. And yet, with each new film with its renewed musings on love, death, art and other deeper concerns of life, Hong confirms his continued preoccupation with them.

Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2018 runs from 25 Oct-1 Nov. mumbaifilmfestival.com

Sucheta Chakraborty