BURNING (2018, Lee Chang-dong)
Character defined by blocking as opposed to action; Jongsu is often alone in the frame when he’s in a scene with Ben and Haemi. Or he’s trapped in a window frame, a doorway, or a stable. Ben is always in smooth motion, always smiling, and connected to Haemi or his attractive possessions (car, clothes, etc.). Is there a difference?
For her part, Haemi is a beautifully, subtly realized character who avoids all the pitfalls of a potential manic pixie dream girl. She’s always revealing her own depressive insecurities — talks herself into a sobbing wreck detailing how she wants to disappear (which serves as both a premonition and a confession); not to mention she lives in a cramped studio apartment that only gets sunlight once a day. “You have to get lucky to see it.”
Identity is something to aspire for, not to claim: “I’m not a writer, I’m just trying to write.” “Do you want to be an actress?” “Do you know how hard that is?” “What do you do?” “This and that. I play.”
All of this existentialist hand-wringing pays off when the thriller elements boil into focus, and Jongsu does start to take action. And in a late shot that recalls the final image of Mike Leigh’s NAKED, he drives further and further away from a burning flame, but it’s visible through the window no matter how far he gets. Formally confident and audacious, aesthetically gripping, this is one of the best films of the year.