Who we are changes from moment to moment. That person we were years ago…days ago…minutes ago is profoundly different than the person we are right now. Pause. Did you feel it? The camera is a historical device that captures the person we were just moments ago because that person we are now has grown and matured in just seconds. Then again, who doesn’t love a cute selfie?
Sometimes an independent film can get just a little too heady for its own good. In Hong Sangsoo’s Claire’s Camera, he examines the ever-changing lives of four people attending the Cannes Film Festival. Claire’s Camera utilizes an interesting storytelling device. Flashbacks and time jumps are common in film’s today and in Sangsoo’s narrative when a major revelation is unveiled, he immediately jumps back to the event that lead to that revelation.
The film opens with Manhee (Min-hee Kim) and her friend Sungyeon (Yoon Heesun) discussing the reason Manhee had to quit her job as a production assistant to her boss, Nam Yanghye (Mi-hee Chang). Next, we jump to just hours before when Yanghye asked Manhee to quit her job because Manhee doesn’t want to fire her. Manhee quickly agrees and requests that they take a picture together to commemorate the moment.
“…made it a point to capture moments in a person’s life because they change so much…”
The film then moves to a chance meeting between Claire (Isabelle Huppert) and director So Wansoo (Jin-young Jung). Since we’re at Cannes Claire and Wansoo meet at a tiny French bookstore where Claire shows the beauty of the French language by reading a classic French play.
Soon we see the lives of our four characters intertwine. Claire has another chance meeting. This time with Manhee. The two quickly become friends and explore Cannes together. Manhee has time because she just quit her job and their friendship quickly becomes “deep.” Also, director Wansoo and Yanghye are apparently lovers, but Wansoo suggest they break up because Wansoo values their business relationship over their romantic relationship, plus he’s been cheating with Manhee.
Here’s where Claire’s camera comes in. Claire has a small Polaroid camera and has made it a point to capture moments in a person’s life because they change so much from moment to moment.
Claire’s Camera is that little film that tried. It tries to be profound but never reaches that level. If I didn’t know better Sang-soo feel like a student film. Every scene is an extended one-take (i.e. no cuts). The camera is set on a fixed tripod and never moves. Each talking head scene runs between five and ten minutes. Maybe Sang-soo feels his dialogue is strong enough to carry the movie, but it isn’t.
“…performances feel more like pushing out lines…”
The acting is also problematic. The character of Claire is French. Manhee, Sungyeon, and Wansoo are Korean. They speak Korean to each other, but when they interact with Claire everyone speaks English. No one has a strong command of English and performances feel more like pushing out lines than acting with emotion or conviction. The drama plays flat and any character struggles are unbelievable.
Something I see a lot in a lot of films where characters have a particular hobby and are played by actors who know nothing about the hobby. This is especially true with photography. Any photo buff knows the proper way to hold a camera, it’s simple and easy. In the case of Huppert, it’s clear she’s never held a camera in her life, especially when she is taking a picture of Sungyeon and Wansoo and her finger is clearly hanging over the lens of the camera—a beautiful shot with a finger in the middle.
Even at the short length of 69 minutes, I can’t get myself to recommend Claire’s Camera. It feels like an amateur experiment.
Claire’s Camera (2017) Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo. Starring Kim Minhee, Isabelle Huppert, Chang Mihee, and Hong Sang-soo. Claire’s Camera is playing at the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival, April 4 – 17, 2018.
1.5 out of 5 stars