John Cho Goes Indie Romance For Kogonada’s ‘Columbus’

Kogonada’s reputation precedes him. His work as a video essayist has amassed a legion of devotees as well as impressive commissions, including from the Criterion Collection. The auteur’s feature film debut has a distinct style and careful composition which does not stray far from his sublime work as an editor.

He is certainly in no hurry in “Columbus.” The feature calmly establishes our leads — a college-suited townie and a son visiting his ailing father — and thoughtfully constructs the spaces in which the story takes place.

It is in the sleepy town of Columbus, Indiana, that there are modern architectural marvels to be found, though they are perhaps too sophisticated and remarkable to be appreciated or even noticed by its inhabitants — two polarized elements that caught the director’s interest. Some might consider that they genuinely don’t belong there. Perhaps the same could be said of its characters.

Kogonada, "Columbus" director (Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Kyle Flubacker)Kogonada, “Columbus” director (Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Kyle Flubacker)

Jin (John Cho) flies into town, checks into his bourgeois hotel, and waits to hear news of improvement — or any change, really — regarding his father’s health.

Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) works at the library while shootin’ the breeze with her co-worker (Rory Culkin), who is fully aware that she is too smart to be in this town (and perhaps he is, too).

Jin and Casey strike an unlikely connection, both not quite fitting into their surroundings, but there by way of circumstance. Jin’s a passerby from out of town, and Casey’s a kid who belongs in college if not for looking after her mother, a former addict.

Casey takes an interest in this outsider, her window into a world outside Columbus, the only one she’s ever known. They kill time together as Casey exuberantly shows the emotionally numb Jin the notable pieces of architecture around town, swapping notes on the effects of modern art and artistic intentions.

Jin’s father, a renowned architect, has not spoken with his son in years. Theirs is an estranged relationship divulged by the later admission that Jin is simply waiting for his father to die.

Visually, the film forces us to take a moment to notice the settings. The modernism of a rundown building connector and the arches over a busy highway give us pause as we fully immerse ourselves in the space that our characters encompass, peeking into a house framed by open doorways, observing life move and breathe within them.

Conceivably, Kogonada encourages us to look more carefully in the spaces where we live our own lives, too.

Written and Directed by: Kogonada
Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes
104 mins.

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