Columbus Is Like Waltzing to Light

#VIFF17 Movie Review – Columbus

Director Kogonada creates an unassuming art film that frames the details of the human condition against a backdrop of midcentury architectural masterpieces

Columbus

4/5

Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey

Directed by: Kogonada

Running time: 1 hr 40 mins

By Katherine Monk

If writing about music is like dancing to architecture, then writing about Kogonada’s movie Columbus is like waltzing to light.

There’s a form to the whole exercise that announces itself from the very first squared-up, level-angled shot into the face of a church. The cross isn’t in the middle, but the asymmetry is balanced.

It’s the beginning of Kogonada’s introductory course on architecture and Columbus’s distinction as a mid-century mecca, where Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei created some of their most buildings, as well as a line for the whole movie.

Everyone in this movie is asymmetrical, but there’s a certain balance achieved through the various components, as well as drama in their dynamics. You have to sit still long enough to really see the lines, because there’s not a lot of movement in Kogonada’s design.

The camera is mostly static. It sits on sticks on a neutral horizon line, keeping everyone in the frame — playing against the backdrop of a Columbus landscape. Whether it’s the stunning structures or the sight of smaller trees set against a robust forest, the director never loses sight of the human scale. People are interacting with the spaces, and the spaces are interacting with them. The light changes the buildings, a new shadows emerge.

Our central characters move through several emotional thresholds, passing from room to room of their lives before our eyes. Yet, Kogonada does it so quietly, the viewer slides through the these detailed interiors with a certain ghostlike detachment.

Richardson’s performance as an astute, smart and self-martyring high school grad in limbo is nothing short of astonishing. She holds the emotional reins of the story without a yank or a slack grip, but clearing every jump just the same.

John Cho gets equal credit for playing a son forced to face lingering father issues, but without Kogonada’s stark design to balance the drama, it would be little more than an episode of a teen soap.

The architecture stands stoically in the background, lending the human element an epic — but never intimidating — context. A showcase for Columbus, as well as a tribute to architecture, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and Korean soul, Koganada finds asymmetrical human notes and syncopated visual rhythms that resonate across cobblestones and marble slabs in balanced harmony.

@katherinemonk

Columbus plays the Vancouver International Film Festival, running to to Oct. 13.

THE EX-PRESS, October 12, 2017

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Summary

4Score

Director Kogonada creates a quiet human drama played out against a stoic backdrop of mid-century architecture in Columbus, Ohio. John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson bring human details to the larger, concrete frames, while Kogonada keeps everything in scale. A little film full of unexpected depth, it seems much like the city that inspired it -- on the surface, and inside. -- Katherine Monk

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