IN OUR DAY – Review by Diane Carson

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In Our Day captures real, unadorned, but noteworthy lives.

The prolific South Korean writer/director Hong Sang-soo never fails to surprise and educate with his unique technical and thematic choices, a pattern that holds true in his recent film, In Our Day. As usual, he begins by dropping into the middle of conversations, here eavesdropping on popular actress Sangwon, in her forties, living with friend Jungsoo.

Sangwon dotes over Jungsoo’s cat Us, feeding and petting Us in a long shot with a stunning composition: Sangwon on the floor with Us, both of them plus Jungsoo reflected in a mirror. The camera never intrudes during an extended take. Soon, Sangwon’s cousin Jisoo arrives. Still in long shot, casual exchanges continue. Meantime, juxtaposed, elderly, ill poet Hong Uiji, who misses his deceased cat, agrees to an interview with aspiring actor Jae-won. Longing for the alcohol and cigarettes forbidden him because of his heart condition, Hong sweet talks Jae-won into buying him both, followed by an energetic game of rock, paper, scissors among Jaewon, Hong, and Ki-joo, a young student filming Uiju for her film school documentary. As complicated as this sounds, the presentation flows with intertitles providing illuminating information about the characters.

Through cross-cutting, parallel scenes, each with three people, progress, suggesting elusive but tantalizing connections: two cats (one dead, one alive but temporarily lost thereby causing an emotional meltdown), celebrated work past and present, self-doubt about ‘artistry,’ and, strange as the details are, a guitar and eating ramen noodles with red chili paste. Two comments resonate with carpe-diem advice. Poet Uiju says, “Be thankful for the small things that are right in front of us” and, feeding treats to the overweight Us, Sang-won asks, “What’s the point of living? You should eat your fill.”

In both arenas, one character assumes and explicitly requests advice and insight from another, questioning their own abilities and goals. Title cards explore another layer of internal emotions not readily evident in the interaction. Above all, the discussions center on art, its place in the poet’s and the actress’ lives, and the small pleasures that define our world. In Our Day is in Korean with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.