There aren’t many films that make you question the meaning of cinema. Claire’s Camera, written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, is one of those films. It forms a fascinating counterpoint to the recent Cannes-Netflix tete-a-tete, where the argument was that quality cinema deserves to be seen theatrically. Okja fits that argument with its spectacular visuals, but then what of a film like Claire’s Camera whose purpose is to strip away all that is cinematic?
Hong films in wide, static two-shots, with no cuts mid-scene. His sound is recorded at high contrast, with the background blare of traffic or the sea washing about. He may have directed this film, but the viewer is its editor, with meaning shaped depending on where you happen to look in its frame at any given moment.
The story is a sly, whimsical tale about affairs, communication and jealousy, all tied together by the charming presence of Claire (Huppert). She is an amateur photographer who meets film professional Manhee (Kim), Director So (Jeong) and his producer/partner Yanghye (Jang) as they all attend the Cannes Film Festival.
Hong’s script is witty and although the tale is slight, it’s floating with the weight of wisdom. Claire’s Camera is about language as much as anything, with the characters flitting between English, French and Korean. When they speak in their second tongues, cadences become exaggerated to clarify meaning, and intentions become more blunt. It’s a fascinating way to view the gap between performance and reality.
So back to the meaning of cinema: surely it is the same as any other piece of art; to enlighten, to entertain, or both. Claire’s Camera passes both tests with flying colours. One of the film’s minor characters talks about how it’s important to make an “honest” film, and there is no better description of Hong’s cinema.
CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Shahira Fahmy, Jang Mi Hee
DIRECTOR: Sang-soo Hong
WRITER: Sang-soo Hong
SYNOPSIS: On a business trip to Cannes Film Festival, Manhee is accused of being dishonest, and fired. She forms a friendship with teacher Claire, who takes photos on her Polaroid camera.