Kogonada pulled triple duty as the writer, director, and editor of his first film, Columbus (2017). The story is simple, the performances are strong, and the cinematography is gorgeous – though a large reason for this is the backdrop of the Columbus, Indiana architecture. The beauty and the cinematic choices that Kogonada made has left a haunting impression on me that I’ve been unable to shake since the films ending.
Columbus has stayed with me days after watching it. A beautiful work of art with great performances
Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) has lived most of her life in Columbus, Indiana where she has grown very fond of architecture. Casey has taken a year off of high school, debating on the next step in her life, but she isn’t willing to leave her mother – a recovering addict – alone while she pursues her own interests. When she meets Jin (John Cho), who finds himself stuck in Columbus tending to his architect father after he suddenly fell ill and is now comatose, they form an unlikely bond while she shows him her favorite architecture marvels as he attempts to understand the scribblings in his father’s journal.
Richardson, who was also in Split (2016) and Edge of Seventeen (2016), gives an amazing performance in this film. Her character is about as human as one could be, displaying every emotion imaginable. She is charming, frustrating, heartbreaking, and clearly troubled. Richardson expertly navigates each of these emotions, never feeling too big in this quiet film. John Cho delivers a strong performance, but there were a few choices that seemed a little too acted or directed. However, those moments where his reaction feels a little too stiff or robotic could definitely have been by design to make his character’s slightly tough facade seem manufactured, as he is clearly trying to be okay with what he’s going through underneath the surface. Their chemistry is believable but greatly helped by Richardson’s performance.
The true star of this film is the cinematography and direction by Kogonada. His camera is static far more often than in many films, but it matches the situation of the characters who are simply stuck, and unable to move forward. He chooses to frame his characters through doorways, reflections, and in between various architectural elements, making them much smaller on the screen as they are often a part of their surroundings. Subsequently, he elects to use far fewer close-ups and mid-shots than one would usually see, as well as waiting to cut when one may expect it. For a first time director, his style is very distinct and it helped to create the tone of the film he was clearly looking to establish.
Columbus is a film that pulled me in unexpectedly. The characters are rich and we only begin to really understand who they are, but it seems it’s a secret they’ve kept from most people they know, much like the city they are exploring. There is a complexity to the world they live in and to the people they are, and we were simply tourists able to only sample a bit of what was there to be offered. I don’t think this film will work for everyone, especially if you need lots to happen in a film to work for you, but I don’t foresee shaking its impact on me anytime soon. With that caveat in mind, Columbus earns the Must See Rating.