Hong Sang-Soo is a filmmaker who thrives on the minimalism of gestures. He is the master of the low-key register. The connective threads in his consciously fragmentary narratives are slight. His work is an evocation of life glimpsed in everyday encounters and conversations (often over a glass of soju). Often, the dialogues are scrupulously punctuated with modest riffs on existential, big questions. The effect, however, never hangs heavy on the viewer if they are patient enough to trust the gentle rhythms of his filmmaking. Some may accuse the filmmaker of repetitive inclinations but to a Hong follower, these very reiterations of style and manner yield a delicate, measured richness that keeps growing. His new film, In Our Day (his second offering of this year), is not a break from his usual methods.

There’s the same laidback, unhurried tone, characters chit-chatting. Here, there are two parallel narrative strands, if one can deem these wisps of situations narratives. Intertitles on a black screen provide exposition as well as cues to read the internal states of the characters across the two tracks. The film opens with a track featuring Kim Min-hee, playing Sang-won, who has returned to Korea after being abroad for an unspecified period of time. She is staying at her friend, Jang-Soo’s (Song Sun-mi) apartment.

There’s also Jang-Soo’s cat, peculiarly called Us. The cat takes fondly to Sang-won, which by Jang-soo’s account, is a rare occurrence because Us usually is indifferent to most except her. Sang-won’s cousin, Ji-Soo (Park Miso), drops in for a visit, hoping for advice on her acting aspirations. We come to know Sang-won was once an actress who has now quit. Initially, Sang-won amusedly asks how she can offer any advice, “How can experience be shared?”

But Ji-Soo is looking for more profound answers into the very nature and scope of acting, optimistic that Sang-won might help her with some sort of clarity about the traits she must have to hone her craft. The former actress talks about the importance of honesty and the necessity of stripping those veils off what one thinks of as the self. “Habits, prejudices, and fears” that the actor has must be kept aside as she plunges into her role. But how can an actor reach for truth and honesty if she is subjected to the image others have of her?

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Sang-won confesses she became trapped by this image. To have to mouth contrived dialogue further compelled her to leave acting since she failed to forge any sense of truth within those narrow boundaries imposed by others. She tried to adhere to the image, but it just continually drained her. Ji-Soo tears up at the thought of the struggles Sang-won must have had.

A still from In Our Days (2023).
A still from In Our Days (2023).

Similar dense questions also surface in the other track built around Hong Ui-Ju (Ki Joo-bong), a poet who has recently found considerable popularity. But all the poet wishes for is a peaceful life, the intertitles inform the viewer. There are several interruptions to his routine. A young woman, Ki-Joo (Kim Seung Yun), is making her graduation film on the poet. The main crux of the film has been shot; she is shooting a few residual scraps, culling together fly-on-the-wall observational snippets.

In this strand, the big questions on truth, poetry, and love are posed by Jae-won (Ha Seong-guk), who has come to the poet’s house presumably for an interview. The poet has one definitive suggestion: “Don’t try to know it all before jumping.” The need to acknowledge the small things in life and be grateful for them is emphasized, a remnant of a theme from one of Hong’s recent offerings, In Front of Your Face (2021).

In Our Day is a film filled with loose convergences and echoes. Sang-won likes having her ramyun with hot pepper paste; Hong Ui-Ju prefers it as well. A guitar also becomes a whiff of a thread, sinuously binding the two characters. None of it feels forced, letting the viewer draw their own playful conclusions about these people who might have had a shared past. Sang-won briefly mentions being deeply impacted by a person but declines to elaborate when nudged by her cousin. There are no efforts to amp up the film’s look; it deliberately retains an austerity sans any striking visual techniques, but the beautifully unfussy, utterly naturalistic performances by Kim Min-hee and Ki Joo-bong endow each stroke of mundanity with transcendental depth.

★★★

In Our Day screened at the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival 2023.

In Our Day (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
In Our Day (2023) Movie Cast: Kim Min-hee, Gi Ju-bong
In Our Day (2023) Movie Genre: Drama | Runtime: 1h 23 Mins
Where to watch In Our Day

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