YOURSELF AND YOURS (Hong Sang-soo, 2016)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Saturday, November 4, $15, 5:00
Festival runs November 3-5
“Don’t try to know everything,” Min-jung (Lee Yoo-young) says in Hong Sang-soo’s latest unusual and brilliant romantic drama, Yourself and Yours. It’s impossible to know everything that happens in Hong’s films, which set fiction against reality, laying bare cinematic narrative techniques. With a propensity to use protagonists who are directors, it is often difficult to tell what is happening in the film vs. the film-within-the-film. He also repeats scenes with slight differences, calling into question the storytelling nature of cinema as well as real life, in which there are no do-overs. In the marvelous Yourself and Yours, scenes don’t repeat, although the existence of a main character might. Min-jung is in a relationship with painter Young-soo (Kim Joo-hyuk), who is dealing with the failing health of his mother when he is told by a friend (Kim Eui-sung) that Min-jung was seen in a bar drunk and arguing with another man. Young-soo refuses to believe it, since he and Min-jung are facing her drinking problem by very carefully limiting the number of drinks she has when she goes out with him. But when the friend insists that numerous people have seen her in bars with other men and imbibing heavily, Young-soo confronts her, and she virulently defends herself, claiming that they are lies and that he should have more faith in her. She leaves him, and over the next several days she has encounters with various men, but she appears to be either a pathological liar or have a memory problem as she tells the older Jaeyoung (Kwon Hae-hyo), a friend of Min-jung’s, that she is a twin who does not know the painter; later, with filmmaker Sangwon (Yu Jun-sang), she maintains that they have never met despite his assertion that they have. Through it all, Young-soo is determined to win her back. “I want to love each day with my loved one, and then die,” he explains with romantic fervor. He also acknowledges Min-jung’s uniqueness: “Her mind itself is extraordinary,” he says.
Yourself and Yours is an intelligent and witty exploration of fear and trust, built around a beautiful young woman who might or might not be lying, as she seems to reboot every time she meets a man, erasing her recent past. Lee (Late Spring, The Treacherous) is outstanding as Min-jung, keeping the audience on edge as to just what might be going through her “extraordinary” mind. Kim (Lovers in Prague, My Wife Got Married) plays Young-soo with just the right amount of worry and trepidation. As with most Hong films (The Day He Arrives, Oki’s Movie, Like You Know It All, Right Now, Wrong Then), there is a natural flow to the narrative, with long shots of characters just sitting around talking, smoking, and drinking — albeit primarily beer in this case rather than soju — with minimal camera movement courtesy of regular Hong cinematographer Park Hong-yeol (Hahaha, Our Sunhi), save for Hong’s trademark awkward zooms. There’s also an overtly cute romantic comedy score by Dalpalan to keep things light amid all the seriousness. Hong continually works on his scripts, so the actors generally get their lines the day of the shoot, adding to the normal, everyday feel of the performances. Many writers have compared the film to Luis Buñuel’s grand finale, 1977’s That Obscure Object of Desire, in which Carole Bouquet and Angelina Molina alternate playing a flamenco dancer, postulating that there are numerous Min-jungs wandering around town, a series of doppelgängers hanging out in bars. That’s not the way I saw it at all (and at the San Sebastian Film Festival, Hong denied it was a direct influence); instead, I see it as one Min-jung, dealing with the endless aspects of relationships, and one Young-soo, an artist who desperately wants to believe in true love and who does not want to be alone, particularly with his mother on her deathbed. There’s the smallest of cues near the end that explains it all, but I’m not about to give that away. And I’m not sure how much it even matters, as regardless of how many Min-jungs might populate this fictional world, Hong has crafted another mesmerizing and mysterious look at love and romance as only he can. The film is screening November 4 at the Museum of Moving Image as part of the New York Korean Film Festival, presented with the Korea Society and running November 3-5 with such other films as Park Kwang-hyun’s Fabricated City, Shin Dong-il’s Come, Together, and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which will be followed by a live video call with Bong, moderated by Simon Abrams.