Now this is a film that owes a lot to its location shooting. It’s stunning.
Kogonada’s debut film, Columbus is visually beautiful and is shot very much like a Wes Anderson picture. In fact, Kogonada describes himself as an “academic-turned-filmmaker”, starting his filmic career in video essays around well-known directors (including Anderson). His debut feature follows Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young architecture enthusiast who works at a library and Jin (John Cho), son to renowned architecture scholar who gets stuck in Columbus, Indiana, after his father falls into a coma. Columbus collides these two characters as they strike up an unlikely friendship, not dissimilar to that of Bob and Charlotte in Lost in Translation.
Estranged from his father, Jin claims to not be interested in the town’s famous modernist architecture, but (to follow a cliché) Casey reignites his love. Despite its clichés, this film still carries sentimental heart as the characters navigate balance between loved ones and cravings to follow an enlightening career. It is balance between the self and the ones around them that carries the weight in its beautiful bittersweet way. Haley Lu is superb in her role, reflecting Casey’s youthful curiosity with a melancholy sadness of having to care for her mother, Maria (Michelle Forbes) who struggles with drug addiction. Her eyes sparkle in ore as ours do too at the mid-century modernist architecture, in turn creating this feeling that “architecture has the power to heal” (as Casey states).
Moving at its own pace, this film fits perfectly into its arthouse genre. It allows you to just fit back and let its dazzling images run over you as they harmoniously create stillness as well as melancholy and humour.
“We realise the importance of the spaces we create around us and the partnership to the natural world”
Meticulously framed, each shot is thoughtful and sensuously pleasurable. This film is not just about human relationships, but physical space and the objects that occupy it; and the relationship between the two. Columbus, much like Paterson with poetry, reignites audiences’ appreciation to architecture too. We realise the importance of the spaces we create around us and the partnership to the natural world.
In all its glorious symmetry, Columbus still allows for some deliberate irregularity – as Casey suggests about a church: it is “asymmetrical but still balanced” – just as there is no clear cut or correct way to navigate life and loves.
Columbus is one of those rare films that only come around ever so often. One that does not need a complicated story-line or larger-than-life characters. It is simply present and free. It allows your own thoughts to roam in it. This is its great achievement.