Berlin Diary #9
After the bang of Emir Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons the previous day, the Competition came to a close last Friday with a dispiriting whimper. First up was Hong Sang-soo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, another quirky lo-fi affair by the prolific festival darling, albeit one too indistinct to truly resonate and unlikely to find many admirers outside of his devoted fan base.
Nobody's Daughter Haewon
Haewon is an acting student that has recently had a secret affair with one of her professors, Seongjun (who is also, this being a Hong film, a film director). Finding herself lonely after her mother expatriates to Canada, she calls up Seongjun and flirts with the idea of resuming their romance. The remainder of the film follows Haewon as she wanders around Seoul, meets with friends and acquaintances, encounters potential new lovers, drinks a fair bit of soju, and comes to grips with the impossibility of her attraction for Seongjun, a married man with a newborn child.
Focusing on a single character with a straightforward dilemma, Hong pushes his mode of merely suggesting themes but never elaborating on them to an insipid extreme. Though the characters talk incessantly, their chatter is rarely of much import, with countless conversations involving characters telling one another how pretty they are and punctuating their every sentence with outbursts of giggling. This is charming and funny at first, but becomes grinding in the long run as little else is offered to give credence or weight to Haewon’s supposed emotional quandaries. Nor is this generated by the film’s several dream sequences, which are mostly so unremarkable that if it weren’t for the eventual shot of Haewon waking up, one might simply consider their slight anomalies as variations on the director’s whimsical style. Given that Hong’s signature use of a flat digital aesthetic replete with unappealing zooms lacks the ability of evoking the feelings and emotions absent otherwise, the viewer is left wholly uninvested and the film crawls along at an exasperating pace, its 90-minute running time feeling considerably longer.
On My Way
And then came the closing film, Emmanuelle Bercot’s On My Way. While only arguably the Competition’s worst entry, it is definitely the most out of place. On the surface, it is comparable to Gloria, the Competition’s other, vastly superior portrait of a woman grappling with the romantic realities of old age. The similarities end there, however, as the former possesses none of the tact, insight, or subtle humor that render Gloria such a delight. Apart from a few instances of elaborate camerawork that clash with the film’s conventionality, On My Way is a purely commercial exercise that checks off every cliché as it adheres to the narrative arc of innumerable films before it.
Catherine Deneuve plays Bettie, a restaurant owner who lives with her mother despite being in her early sixties. Upon finding out that her lover has left her for a 25-year-old, she drops everything and embarks on a spontaneous road trip across France. She eventually picks up her estranged daughter’s teenage son, whom she last saw as a baby. The ostensible purpose is to drop him off with his paternal grandfather while his mother starts a job in Brussels. Predictably enough, confinement in the car with the impertinent youngster evolves from conflict, to crisis, to reconciliation, to reciprocal affection. Once at the grandfather’s idyllic countryside home, they throw a feast attended by every single character in the film regardless of narrative or geographic plausibility. Decades’ worth of pent-up resentment are resolved with the help of good food and wine and Bettie can put her existential worries to rest having come to the revelation she imparts in the film’s closing line: “Life goes on.”