It seems as though the first half of 2021 was the time when famous auteurs finally attempted to release more than two feature films in the same year. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has already completed two lengthy feature films; both competing and garnering awards in Cannes and Berlin competition. Love him or hate him, Zach Snyder has also released two of the most influential blockbuster films of the decade, in terms of populace and fandom appeal. Now, South Korean master Hong Sang-soo is back with his fair share of melodramatic mumblecore. Competing with Introduction at Berlin earlier this year, his latest feature In Front of Your Face sheds a far softer and empathetic light on everyday normalcy, in comparison with Hong’s other brooding and self-referential work.
Obviously, the obligatory self-projection director character is featured within In Front of Your Face — but for the most part Hong keeps his characters and narrative at a simplistic tee. Set in an empty metropolis, consumed by small bodegas and brief encounters in local greeneries, Hong’s focus on family dynamics and visual metaphor is rich with personality. The locations featured in In Front of Your Face aren’t the typical backdrops one would expect from the renowned filmmaker. Perhaps, the locations are ironic in showcasing mutual tranquility between the characters and their own internal conflict; as they continuously bicker and banter in a strangely-tamed metropolitan sphere. Or maybe, the locations are literal in their metaphorical meanings — a lush green park growing with flora, representing the rekindling of two distant siblings.
Yet what’s most staggering about In Front of Your Face is its timeliness; a film which comments on the fears and anxieties of passing away — a final farewell in mastering the art of saying goodbye. Shot during the pandemic, Hong has redefined the lockdown film with newly implemented subtext regarding the looming face of death. Whilst the storyline and the narrative end goal is undeniably familiar and borderline conventional for “Sang-soo standards”, the central execution is brimming with empathy. Hong’s intimate dialogue between his three core characters offer a refreshing and potent message on the symbiosis between mortality and acceptance; all told outside of his typical metatextual shtick.
In Front of Your Face is a film that is bound to please avid Hong fans and intrigued newcomers; a project that finds a perfect balance between aimless dialogue-heavy tragedy and quaint family-oriented levity. Without sacrificing any of his typical visual vocabulary —including but not limited to long takes, slow pans/zooms, minimal non-diegetic sound, and stilted blocking— Hong Sang-soo once again finds beauty in human conflict and solace in the most mundane of resolutions.