The Novelist’s Film

Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Distributed by: Cinema Guild

Written by Michael Clawson

In hindsight, “Hotel by the River” appears to have marked a slight turning point in Hong Sang-soo’s filmography. While his charmingly unadorned visual style is as recognizable as ever in “The Novelist’s Film,” not to mention the presence of numerous Hong regulars as cast members (Kim Min-hee included) and his signature motifs and character types, this film, Hong’s third of 2022, is relatively straight-forward in terms of narrative progression. Save for one bracingly unexpected gesture near the film’s end, “The Novelist’s Film” is the fifth film in a row where Hong has largely done without the structural gambits that he can deploy so masterfully, and that have thus defined so many of his previous features.

While I’m fond of the formal devices that Hong is apparently taking a break from, his recent opting for simpler structures isn’t a bad thing; especially in “The Novelist’s Film,” it allows for a newfound emotional directness. The story of a writer, Jun-hee (Lee Hye-young), as she casually crosses paths with acquaintances old and new, and embarks, with some spontaneity, on a short film project, is a transparently personal, uniquely self-reflective work from Hong. It shows this great director humbly and humorously examining his own filmmaking process and creative philosophy, while doubling as a romantic ode to the thing – or rather, the person – he loves most.

Shot in black-and-white, the film’s images of typical Hongian locations – a bookstore/café, a movie theater, ordinary city streets and parks – resemble “Hotel by the River,” “The Day After,” and “Grass” in their unfussy loveliness. After playing the lead in “In Front of Your Face” (and featured in the not-yet-released “Walk Up”), Lee Hye-young is a more than welcome new face among Hong’s familiar stable of actors. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Hong film if there weren’t zooms and long takes, and not only does “The Novelist’s Film” have plenty of both, it also has what must be the grandest of zooms in any Hong film to date.

“The Novelist’s Film” Trailer

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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