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Sophie Monks Kaufman

@monkskaufman

The Woman Who Ran – first look review

A woman catches up with three close friends in this charming situational drama from South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo.

Cat lovers, rejoice, for a small but perfectly formed feline subplot is present in South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s whimsical latest. In The Woman Who Ran, a man knocks on a woman’s door to request that she stops feeding the neighbourhood stray, thereby encouraging it to stick around, because it means that his wife, who is scared of cats, can’t go outdoors.

His request is met with abject dismay. A minor disagreement ensues, powered by a steadily rising, absurd tension. Both parties stick to the rules of polite conversation, yet their different values regarding the importance of cats swiftly emerge. Battle lines are drawn. Once the neighbour leaves the camera pushes in on the cat (a chunky beast) who has been sitting innocently on the sidelines for the duration. In a press conference, Hong said that the cat nailed its performance on the first take.

The Woman Who Ran is charming from beginning to end, evoking the delicious, tickling breeze found in the everyday tales of Eric Rohmer. The narrative container is simple: Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) has been left alone by her husband for the first time in five years. While he is on a business trip she visits three friends in Seoul, Young-soon (Seo Young-hwa), Su-young (Song Seon-mi) and Woo-jin (Kim Sae-byuk). They hang out together, talk and eat. Male pests from the peripheries of their lives stumble onto the scene, while Gam-hee watches on curiously.

Min-hee performs every tiny movement – bringing meat to her lips, stirring a spoon around a china cup – with natural grace. This poise take on an impish ‘who me?’ charm when those movements are, say, inching closer to the CCTV camera the better to watch an argument play out between Su-young and a spurned lover. Min-hee is Song-soo’s wife and muse and the way she embodies his comic sensibility is a testament to their creative synchronicity.

A film about everyday interactions lives and dies based on how well these are captured. In this case, Hong does so exquisitely. His conversational rhythms nail the dance that makes up artful communication. Details of the women’s lives are scattered across their catch-ups, but so too are appreciative exchanges about how well cooked the meat is and the particulars of renting in a complex where artists receive a discount.

It is enchanting to spend time in this atmosphere of lilting camaraderie and female friendship. The cinematography is subtle and elegant. The camera moves invisibly, except for when Hong wishes to emphasise a subject by pushing into a close-up, such as he did with the contentious cat.

Published 25 Feb 2020

Tags: Berlin Film Festival Hong Sang-soo

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