It's a Korean Dogme 95 film. However I think I'd been misled in my Dogme 95 expectations by Italian For Beginners
, which it seems is also part of an unrelated fashion in Danish cinema for new realism and improvised narrative. Interview though is a much more normal film than Italian For Beginners
and in addition it's very good.
For the first half-hour, I was disappointed. I like Dogme 95 because of the arbitrary constraints. I'm not actually that fussed about what they are, but their mere existence should theoretically be forcing directors down unusual filmmaking paths. Unusual paths are good. They're a source of creativity. This though looks like any other mainstream release and you'd never have guessed it was Dogme 95. They break the rules on non-diegetic music. The cinematography looks far better and smoother than you'd expect given the rules on hand-held cameras and no lighting, filters or optical work, but for now I'll be generous and assume that the cameraman was superb. Finally there are flashbacks and a non-linear narrative, which at the time I assumed was a violation of rule 7 ("Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden") but on reflection I suppose it's not. Roughly speaking, it's all still in the here and now. It's just jumbled a bit, that's all.
However this is a film about filmmakers making a film. It's thus permissible for the characters to use all normal filmmaking equipment and techniques, because they don't know they're characters in a Dogme 95 movie.
The film's following a Korean filmmaking crew, who are working on a documentary feature called, yes, Interview. It's about love and relationships. The movie-within-a-movie is just talking heads, with all kinds of people being asked about their romantic histories, their expectations of love and so on. This I liked. It's interesting. You've got all kinds of odd people, like the married couple where the wife's heavily pregnant, but there's an acidity to their relationship which they simply accept and live with. There's the dentist's beautiful, doll-like wife in a well-preserved middle age, who stands smiling beside her husband like an adornment and almost never speaks. There's a woman who dumped her boyfriend out of compassion, thinking he deserved better than to have to cope with her illness. These people all say interesting things. Furthermore the documentary interview format means they're tackling the film's theme more directly than you usually get in drama.
However there are also the documentary-makers. We see their relationships, or lack of them. One guy's a woman-hopping dick, defined by the things he says he's not defined by. The director (Jung-Jae Lee) gets himself involved in a delicate triangular non-relationship with Eun-ha Shim and her prettier friend, in which you see how fragile can be the threads of potential attraction and hope. There are odd moments like the scene where a man is thought disgusting for having slept with twenty women, or a subtle look at the differences in this area between France and South Korea. (Jung-Jae Lee speaks French and used to live and work there, which is one of those flashback scenes I was telling you about... and afterwards, back home in the present day, he never seems plugged into what women are thinking and feeling around him.)
The best thing about the film by far is Eun-ha Shim. She was one of South Korea's top actresses in the 1990s, helping to create the anti-heroine in modern K-drama, but she retired from the business shortly after this and this would be her last film. These days she's married to a research professor who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Seoul in 2010. They have two daughters and she has no plans to return to acting, although she's apparently become an accomplished painter.
Anyway, Eun-ha Shim is fascinating. What's paradoxical about this is that the character's so buttoned-up, hiding everything under a polite mask. She gets invited to participate in the interviews... and she lies. She gets caught up in a story that she then has to maintain when Jung-Jae Lee comes back for more, but eventually we also start see her own story underneath, struggling to get out. Shim does all this modestly and plainly, but with great clarity. I loved the little moment when she's been dumped like a wallflower and she simply closes her eyes to enjoy the sun on her face, or the precision with which she shows the difference between her character lying and telling the truth. It's a quiet performance, but I loved watching it. She and Lee are the heart of this film, although that's not to say that there's not plenty of humanity in everyone else we're watching too.
There's also an amusing scene where two characters shout obscenities late at night to annoy the neighbours, while in another scene we briefly see tits. Never let it be said that I don't mention the important things too.
This film got me thinking about the dramatic purpose of scenes and their levels of subtext. It's a slow, drab story if you're merely watching the plot, but I think it's the thematic development that makes this special. Its mix of documentary and documentary-makers creates all kinds of layers of relevance, overlapping and reinforcing each other. The non-linear narrative also means that we often see the same conversations and interviews more than once, usually from a viewpoint we hadn't previously considered. This is a really nice storytelling tactic too. Personally I found the film delicate and, in the end, lovely. The talking-head interviews might not seem to be advancing the plot, such as it is, but they're still important and the film's long enough to be able to absorb them and still tell a worthwhile story anyway. It's an understated and at first glance inconclusive one, but that's okay.
"Once you take a camera in your hands, it is impossible to capture the truth."