- English spoken
“Smart phone, dumb human,” Jin jokingly says to Casey. It’s just a passing little joke, part of the mildly flirty rapport between the two. But in some ways it also touches on the big concepts that Kogonada reflects on in his warm and exceptionally cinematic feature debut Columbus.
Before we continue: yes, Kogonada is actually a pseudonym. A remnant of the online career of the Korean-American artist, who started his work in film creating so-called video essays: short, analytical videos on cinema. Kogonada was one of the first, and one of the best, in this burgeoning genre. His videos even made it onto the Criterion releases of the movies he focused on – from neorealism and Antonioni to kogonada’s great hero Ozu.
The real name hidden behind the pseudonym is still unknown – even now that kogonada has completed a feature-length film of his own. In Columbus, the Korean-American Jin (a rare subdued role for comedian John Cho) ends up in the titular American village when his father falls into a coma and is taken to hospital there. In an attempt to get away from the stuffy hospital and the strained relationship with his father, Jin wanders through town, where a somewhat awkward first meeting leads to architecture fanatic Casey (a radiant Haley Lu Richardson) giving him a tour.
Once you’ve seen Columbus, not knowing the name of the man behind it stops being an issue: through the film, you get a clear image of his character. He is undoubtedly thoughtful, wise, warm and perceptive. This winning first impression proved to be completely true when I met kogonada at the Rotterdam film festival, where Columbus was selected for the Tiger Competition.
As he puts it himself, with Columbus, kogonada moves from making sashimi, where the focus is purely on the proper cutting technique, to preparing an entire meal. But traces of the filmmaking greats he analysed in his video essays are just as present in his own work. The warm, compassionate view found in Ozu, who exposes human failings but never judges. And Antonioni’s emphasis on the place people occupy in the spaces around them, made explicit in Columbus through the importance placed on architecture.
Architecture is what Jin and Casey share, what brings them together. While he waits for his father to wake up, or to die, she guides him though her little town which, through a strange twist of fate, is home to a large collection of modernist buildings. And in the meantime they talk – about that architecture, and through that, about the value of art, and through that, about what it means to be human, and to love, and all of those things.