Claire’s Camera is Cannes-centric. South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo set his quirky character-driven, genre-defying drama in the sun-drenched seaside resort town as the festival is taking place, but never visits the event’s star-studded glamour or industry hustle — both of which actually surrounded the film’s premiere at the festival in 2017. And, since the story is about friendship between two women, Claire’s Camera is femme-centric, too. Continue reading…
The somewhat incidental and elliptical story centers around two women who form sort of instantly intimate friendship that can occur when lonely strangers with little in common meet by happenstance in a new and temporary environment. Claire (Isabelle Huppert) is a school teacher who is attending the festival with a filmmaker friend and relishes recording her encounters with her always-in-hand Polaroid. Her path crosses that of Manhee (Kim Min-hee), a diligent but naive film sales assistant who doesn’t understand why her boss suddenly accused her of being dishonest and, ithout further explanation, fired her, leaving her stranded in Cannes.
In their new friendship, the Claire and Manhee team up to tour the seaside resort while trying to pinpoint the exact reason why Manhee was fired. Through his sequencing of seemingly unrelated scenes, Hong Sang-soo lets the audience know long before his two lead characters do that Manhee had a one night stand with a filmmaker (Jung Jin-young) who is represented by her agency and the lover of her jealous boss. These relationships are revealed in the images captured by Claire’s camera.
The film’s considerable charm comes from the good chemistry between Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee, both of whom give delightful performances. Claire’s Camera Is 69 minutes long and was shot on the fly in just 12 days. The film’s seemingly interstitial plot structure with its oddly introduced twists has confounded some critics, who say the style lacks luster. But Hong Sangsoo finesses his impromptu as-it-is approach to give the audience plenty of time for reflection about how humans connect with each other or dissociate, and how we are transformed by the power of images — still or moving. Movie buffs and scholars will take pleasure in identifying Hong Sang-soo’s cinematic and narrative references to films — such as Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee — that were brought to light at Cannes. Those who are less well versed in movie trivia can just relax and enjoy this engaging and casually quirky cinema adventure. — Jennifer Merin
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Anne Brodie: Sang-Soo Hong’s mesmerising fable, set over a few days in Cannes has the quality of a dream. Its circular architecture mimics Jeon Manhee’s (Min-hi Kim) unfortunate predicament. She finds something or someone, she’s rejected and then she returns back to the beginning, no further ahead, no happier, no wiser; it’s her pattern. Her female boss fires her for being “dishonest”, doubletalk for being supposedly having an affair with the boss’ filmmaker boyfriend. Manhee is stricken, she’s alone in a strange place, her business trip supports are gone, she’s rejected by both her boss and the cheating beau, and she’s unemployed. Claire (Isabella Huppert) appears, a sprightly figure in blazing yellow, armed with a friendly smile and a camera. Manhee finds solace with her, Claire understands she’s in distress and gently encourages her to talk. Coincidentally, Claire had coffee with the former beau that morning. Same with a big grey dog they both saw, but separately that morning, basking in the sun. Claire photographs interesting faces, and caught Manhee looking quite different at a party that morning. Mysteries are left to our imagination, and the idea that experience is circular gains power through repetition. It’s perplexing and satisfying, and the blazing sun makes everything seem ok. Maybe.
Sandie Angulo Chen: The last time I saw Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee on screen, they were in Elle and The Handmaiden, respectively – both of which competed at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where Claire’s Camera – set during the film festival and starring both Huppert and Kim — was shot. Prolific South Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s short (only 69 minutes) and personal film is a contemplative look at the power of connection and creating art. Claire’s Camera even features a Korean director (played by Jung Jinyoung in what looks like Sang-soo’s own wardrobe) seemingly modeled after him, but the nonlinear story is at its best when it focuses on the two leading women. Huppert plays the titular Claire, a French music teacher/poet/photographer playing tourist during the festival with an instant camera she insists can change the lives of her subjects (“If I take a photo of you, you are not the same person anymore,” she says). It’s rare to see Huppert in a role that allows her to be breezy and zen — particularly in her non-native language. And it was surprisingly satisfying to see her inject the performance with subtle humor. Kim, is Manhee, a capable and well-liked film company employee who’s just been fired for reasons utterly unknown to her. The two women bump into each other, take walks on the beach, eat, and talk – about art, food, love, and home. There’s a lovely intimacy to their bond, and in the almost improvised nature of their conversations.
Betsy Bozdech Sang-soo Hong’s observational Cannes-set tale about the intersecting lives of a few people in town for the festival is a gentle slice-of-life drama in which star Isabelle Huppert shines. Talky and thoughtful, the production isn’t meant to be slick or polished; watching it is more like eavesdropping on strangers as they go about their day and experience the highs and lows that come with being human.
Esther Iverem: If any messy emotional triangle could be captured in photographs then the result might look like “Claire’s Camera” by director Hong Sangsoo. Claire (Isabelle Huppert) supplies the literal Western gaze and what could have been a quirky comedy of errors is instead roiled in tension.
Cate Marquis 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). Read full review.
Moira Sullivan: Claire’s Camera was featured at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. French actress Isabelle Huppert meets South Korean actress Kim Min-hee, known for her role in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (2016 Vulcan award at Cannes). It is enough of a cinematic happening to drive South Korean director Hong Sangsoo to shoot Claire’s Camera in the environs of this festival, the most esteemed gathering for cinema achievements in the world. Read full review.
Title: Claire’s Camera
Directors: Hong Sang-soo
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Principal Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Kim Min-hee
Running Time: 69 minutes
Language: Korean, English, French with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Hong Sang-soo
Distribution Company: Cinema Guild
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Moira Sullivan, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin