CLAIRE’S CAMERA — Review by Cate Marquis

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South Korean director Hong Sangsoo takes us to the Cannes Film Festival, not for a tale of red carpets and glittering parties but a quiet little contemplative drama about people on the fringes of the festival. Claire’s Camera is a South Korean/French production in Korean, English and a little French. Claire is Isabelle Huppert, playing a teacher from Paris who is attending the Cannes Film Festival with a friend who has a film in the festival. At loose ends, Claire meets and instantly bonds with another person on the other side of the velvet rope, a young South Korean film sales associate, Manhee (Kim Minhee). Continue reading…

Manhee was just fired by her boss Yanghye (Chang Mihee), although she does not know why. Puzzled, she has decided to stay in Cannes a few days to try to figure things out. Manhee’s boss Yanghye is also the producing partner and girlfriend of director So Wansoo (Jung Jinyoung), who has a film in the festival. The 50-year-old director also has a problem with drinking and philandering, which girlfriend Yanghye has a problem with. When Claire meets the South Korean director by chance at a cafe, she tells him how much she admires artists like him. She also quickly adds that though she is a teacher, she also writes poetry and takes photos. Then she takes a photo.

It is Claire and her camera that tie the threads of the story together. Through a series of non-linear scenes, Claire’s Camera unfolds a quiet little tale about these people as they work out their issues in the shadow of the unseen festival. Claire takes snapshots of the other characters with a camera that produces instant prints, like an old Polaroid. She tells them her photos have the power to change people. While they listen politely listen, they clearly do not believe. Director Hong hints at magical realism or at least that Claire and her camera may be a catalyst.

The film’s title is the tip off that Claire’s Camera is director Hong’s affectionate nod to Eric Rohmer, and his film Claire’s Knee. This film has a similar conversational style as found in Rohmer’s films as well as a similar underlying sense of melancholy.

Although the story takes place during the glitzy Cannes Film Festival, you would never know that from what we see on screen. The quiet little film gives almost no hint of all the activity going on elsewhere. Instead we see unremarkable cafes, pleasant little streets and other ordinary, if pleasing, scenes.

Hong, who has been to Cannes many times, debuted Claire’s Camera at Cannes out of competition. In that context, it would have played like a little appetizer, an amuse bouche, to that main banquet. Casting the famous Isabelle Huppert as the teacher friend who tags along with a filmmaker friend, adds a touch of humor to this light confection. At the festival, this little film would have had an extra layer of meaning but it is a bit more wispy without that setting. Still, it is a pleasant little diversion, and with its short running time, not too long of one either.

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