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A Traveler’s Needs – Film Review

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Finecut

After submerging his entire filmmaking ethos into a pool of blurred self-reflexivity with in water (2023), Hong Sang-soo returns after a brief mid-year hiatus with his latest lo-fi effort. Instead of toiling with the radical mechanics of his evolving cinematic language, Sang-soo backtracks to familiar territory with A Traveler's Needs. Make no mistake, the Korean auteur's low-budget extremities are ever-present; even with an Academy Award-nominated actress at the helm. In his third collaboration with beloved French icon , Sang-soo reinstates familiar themes of connectivity and linguistics to the table. Just like her sumptuously sunny performance in Claire's Camera, Huppert's role continues her nonchalant tradition of portraying a lost foreigner. Even in her homeland, Huppert is often cast as a non-conforming entity — a character either socially or geographically displaced in the context of her shifting environments. With A Traveler's Needs, Huppert combines the aforementioned social and geographic displacement of her prior collaborations into a singular persona. Her latest turn as Iris is simultaneously cryptic and charismatic; a role separated from the naivety and extroverted sentimentality of her preceding roles.

Iris' foreign autonomy is utilized effectively as an engaging hook to examine her beguiling personality. Throughout the film, Sang-soo deliberately withdraws direct information and backstory to her incognito state. Her shrouded interiority provides the film's essential thesis. Sang-soo often ruminates on the power of languages — examining Iris' radical French teaching techniques through cutting-edge conversations. Shielded identities and broken hearts unveil the character's dependency on nostalgic conformity; the beauty of languages, translation, and literary arts transformed as a self-reflexive bandaid for connection. Acts of musical performance are used as interrogative prompts; questioning and providing integral introspection on the art of orality. 

Still Courtesy – Finecut

A Traveler's Needs behaves as an intricate ode to human transparency and the versatility of shared experiences. In the hands of a lesser director, the wise cinematic contemplations at hand would have read closer to an avant-garde duolingo session. Instead, Sang-soo strips the formal aesthetics of his cinematic palette to the barest state; hyper-fixated on the naturalism and procedural delivery of his sensitive performances. In contrast, the narrative's structure and progression of thematic ruminations merely reiterate pre-existing parallels from Sang-soo's oeuvre. The derivative formation recalls stronger works from Sang-soo's filmography; including recent endeavours such as The Woman Who Ran and In Front of Your Face. The aforementioned titles illustrate a triptych of episodic encounters — involving a charismatic heroine. 

Trapped by their ennui and desperation for translation, Sang-soo's rudimentary trail of narrative beats fails to fully merge with his intricate philosophies. A more lackadaisical approach would have better complimented the sensitive subject matter; whilst illustrating the internalised biases and perceptions of the supporting cast. As the characters continuously attempt to find structure in their menial routines, Sang-soo's latest piece ultimately confides in the remnants of a familiar tale. A glass of makgeolli before showtime is strongly recommended.

Still Courtesy – Finecut
A Traveler's Needs premiered in Competition as part of the 74th Berlin Film Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution.