Columbus (4 stars)

Columbus

Kogonada's sensitive, nuanced first feature starring John Cho is like witnessing souls laid bare

A snapshot of life in the small city of Columbus, Indiana, this sensitive, nuanced feature debut from documentary short filmmaker and video artist Kogonada plays on themes of inertia and unrealised potential to capture the power of real connection.

At its heart is the relationship between 19-year-old local architecture buff Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and the much older Jin (John Cho), a Korean-born book translator who finds himself trapped when his famed architect father is taken ill on a tour. Although a strong bond develops between them, it is not – thankfully – romantic in nature, rather it is about a shared desire for escape. Casey waxes lyrical about the city's buildings, a distraction from the drug-addicted mother she feels powerless to leave, while Jin loses himself in her passion as a way of avoiding the weight of responsibility, and guilt, he feels about his relationship with his father.

There are no grand gestures in Columbus, no sweeping soliloquies. Instead its strength is found in its quiet moments: Jin playing chess opposite his father's jacket draped across a chair; an anxious Casey losing herself in the neon-lit simplicity of a mall. The two performances are stunning, brimming with so much repressed emotion, the damage of everything left unsaid. As we come to understand Jin's own personal frustrations, we also realise why he's so keen to ensure Casey doesn't repeat his mistakes.

A hotbed of modernist architectural expression, the titular city also plays a major role in the narrative. Characters are carefully, quirkily framed against the architecture, the clean lines and well-considered angles on which cinematographer Elisha Christian's camera lingers in thoughtful, protracted contemplation are both a contrast to the emotional tumult being felt by both Casey and Jin, and a balm.

And through it all, Kogonada's direction is unassuming, poised and unflinchingly focused, lending the film such intimacy, such permeating melancholy, that it's like witnessing souls laid bare. Similarities with Lost in Translation are obvious and, like that film, Columbus effortlessly creeps under your skin and stays there.

Selected release from Fri 5 Oct.

Columbus

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 44min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Kogonada
  • Cast: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey
  • UK release: 5 October 2018

Jin (Cho) finds himself stranded in Columbus, Indiana when his architect father is taken ill, and he strikes up a bond with local architecture buff Casey (Richardson). Sensitive, nuanced feature debut without grand gestures or sweeping soliloquies but full of repressed emotion, framed by the titular city’s modernist…

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