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Burning (2018)
The truth is all in your head.
Filmmaker(s): Lee Chang-dong

An aspiring writer goes to the airport to pick up a high school friend returning from a trip to Africa but is disheartened to see her with another man.

Burning (2018)

Soft Glass

Young South Korean filmmakers have a layered vitality one doesn’t find anywhere else. Filmmaking is all about mapping what we have as cinematic conveyance to what we yearn for internally. That’s the game, the expected contract between filmmaker and viewer. We negotiate that as we go, sometimes being outside the story as normal interpreters, sometimes inside the story filling in bits.

One way to go about this is for the filmmaker to trick the viewer when in internal mode to make assumptions that are later revealed to shock. A common technique is to tantalise with some erotic vision – easily cinematic – and later lead us into reviling misogynistic exploitive behaviour.

More nuanced is mixing realities between what we invent from what we are shown and what an on-screen sometime narrator does. This is rich territory for filmmakers willing to go there, and I think the more we experiment, the greater our vocabulary will be.

We are tuned to have an in-story interpreter. Our main character is a writer, and we are pointed to some books with metaphors that cross into reality.

We see him in the longish first act conjure narrative reality from sexual fantasy. Later, he literally writes what we presumably see, while sitting in the girl’s apartment but outfitted for himself. The sexual tryst is still in the smell of the place.

We see his love interest go well out of our way to present the importance of (pantomime) living richly in a created reality. We have her describe the ‘great hunger’; for revelation, encountered in dance she describes and later demonstrates, in her own encounter in Africa – a trip likely never taken.

We have questionable memories. Is she genuinely the person who lived in the neighbourhood when they were children? Is the father overcome by past roles he cannot escape? Is the newly recovered mother genuine? What role does plastic surgery play, once we see the makeup; scene at the narratively frugal end?

The referenced Gatsby story to those of us interested in these things, is rich with mixed fantasies from the writer and narrator. All the real action here is in the context of broadcast propaganda; the MacGuffins are neglected glass houses in a context where houses matter, and may even (dimly) reference quantum realities.

We never know who is conspiring with whom, who is imaginary and what motives are to be trusted.

So the art here is in transporting us into this folded space where we get destabilised, but not so much we lose our engagement. That’s a major accomplishment in itself. Few can do it and most are Asian.

But we want the investment to matter. I want a part of my soul turned inside out to challenge me by the evoked inner me. Possibly, this failure is because I did not pretend to fall in love with the girl. The seduction did not overlap beyond the two young men, possibly because of culture, age and suspicion.

Posted in 2019

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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