BIFF: Hotel by the River (2018)

Hong Sang-soo screenings have become an annual event on the Brisbane cinematic calendar. Since the inaugural Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival premiered Hill of Freedom – introducing me to the South Korean auteur – each year has seen a new Hong. When BAPFF passed away a couple years ago, Queensland Film Festival picked up the slack, opening with Claire’s Camera; this year, the resurgent Brisbane International Film Festival keeps the ball rolling with Hong’s latest, Hotel by the River.

One of the appeals of Hong’s filmography is how he iterates his filmmaking – defined by improvisational conversations fuelled by plenty of soju – in new environs. Hotel by the River is thinner and less purely entertaining than his recent works, but Hong-heads will appreciate its stylistic departure.

The casualness of the everyday is traded for an emphasis on the mystical elements that tend to lurk in the background of earlier films. There are familiar elements – drunken dinner conversations, a famous director, Kim Min-hee dealing with a failed relationship – but the atmosphere, created by a wintery setting, a small cast and monochrome cinematography, is positively purgatorial. There’s even a dash of the Lynchian in the final minutes. Slight, yes, but an interesting experiment for fans.

3 stars

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