Columbus: John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson
I went to a screening (and Q&A) this week of the amazing new film Columbus from Kogonada [IMDB] . The film’s buzz out of Sundance was the first time I had heard about it and was interested because John Cho was one of the film’s stars. All the hype though didn’t prepare me for how much I would love it.

The film is a confident and assured feature directorial debut by Kogonada (who I am embarrassed to say I had not heard about before my research for this.) Kogonada is known for film essays that explore the work of film legends to reveal patterns and parallels in their work for a greater appreciation of their work. One of the short films, Mirrors of Bergman (for Criterion Collection,) was shown at the screening and it was great preparation for what we were going to see.

Mirrors of Bergman from Criterion Collection on Vimeo. Created by :: kogonada

Columbus is about two people, Jin and Casey, who cross paths at a critical point in both of their lives. Jin (John Cho) has to travel to Columbus, IN from South Korea because of a family emergency. Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is from Columbus and is torn between the need to stay in her beloved city for her mother or to explore the world she longs to see.

When asked at the Q&A about how directing actors for the first time (!!!) was, Kogonada said that it was actually one of the easiest aspects of the process. The casting and directing is excellent. It is wonderful to see John Cho (who for many of us Gen-Xers is pot-head movie royalty) deliver such a nuanced grownup performance. Dude is a leading man. Haley Lu Richardson is the big revelation in this film. This film was the first film I had seen her and I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She has that Michelle Pfeiffer quality that will break your heart when you least expect it. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. The cast is rounded out by the always brilliant Parker Posey (who I didn’t recognize,) Michelle Forbes and Rory Culkin (who I remember from a memorable episode Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.)

Kogonada at the Q&ABeauty and symmetry are two words that perfectly characterize this film. Cinematographer Elisha Christian had me gasping every few seconds with those stunning shots. One can clearly see that this is a film made by filmmakers who have thought deeply about the framing of film images and their power to move people. As structured as the film is, it is still shot and directed with lots of heart. The way buildings, spaces and faces are captured pull you further into this world and story. I especially loved the variations on the recurring shots throughout the film that seamlessly tie the characters and themes together.

One cannot talk about this film without mentioning the city’s famous modernist architecture which plays a huge role in both its plot and look. The architecture is treated so lovingly that I want to visit Columbus, IN. I do hope that they create some kind of study guide / cheat sheet of the buildings and architects in the film by the time the film streams or goes to DVD.

If you like your summer entertainment loud, fast paced and CGI/FX heavy, then this is not the film for you. Columbus is quiet, thoughtful, and beautiful while dealing with messy grownup issues in a fresh way. I hope this film is an indie box office success story. It comes out in movie theaters on August 4. I would so love to interview Kogonada when the publicity for the film calms down.

I was so inspired by the film that I ran around after the screening taking horrendous photos of building in The Village. I might share the Washington Square Park Arch photos (the only ones that came out halfway decent) this weekend. I am going to the special screening (and Q&A) of Kogonada’s short films next Monday (July 31) at IFC Center. See you there. Whether you go to the screening on Monday or not, go watch the film when it comes out in theaters next Friday.

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