Hill of Freedom

Hill of Freedom

2014, NR, 66 min. Directed by Hong Sang-soo. Starring Ryo Kase, Moon So-ri, Seo Young-hwa, Kim Eui-sung, Youn Yuh-jung, Gi Ju-bong, Lee Min-woo.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 12, 2020

As helmed by prolific South Korean director Hong, Hill of Freedom is by turns charming, playfully humorous, and gently melancholic. In other words, it’s an instantly welcome bit of sweet cinematic release and couldn’t have arrived at a better time – even though it was initially released six years ago.

The plot is simple but ingenious. A woman, Kwon (Seo), collects a mysterious bundle of undated letters from a school somewhere in Seoul. She stumbles on the stairs and the missives drop from her hands and scatter to the floor completely out of order. Later, she begins to read them, resulting in a story that unfolds in flashbacks necessitated by the chronological disarray of the correspondence.

English-speaking Japanese native Mori (Kase, of Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage) arrives in Kwon’s neighborhood. Lovers in the past and seeking to reunite, he spends his days alternately searching for Kwon and sitting alone, reading in a nearby cafe. Director Hong drops clues here and there – the book Mori is so engrossed in is titled “Time” – but the overall tone is less malignant mystery and more banal conundrum. Adding to the puzzle is Young-sun (Moon), a flirty waitress with whom Mori strikes up a tentative romance, and a comically obstreperous neighbor who repeatedly attempts to ingratiate himself with Mori. That’s about it as the story goes, but it all nevertheless lingers in your mind, a dreamlike slice of sublime romantic slippage.

Hong has made eight more films since Hill of Freedom's 2014 debut at the Venice Film Festival. He’s definitely a niche auteur, working as he does in the shadows of his more well-known (in the West) contemporaries, such as multiple-Oscar-winning Bong Joon-ho and genre favorites Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon. But whereas that triad regularly employs outrageous, frequently extreme genre-hopping storylines and manic camerawork to assault the audience, Hong’s films are more frequently compared in both structure and tone to the likes of the late French national treasure Alain Resnais (Last Year in Marienbad). Both filmmakers delve into the mysteries of time, memory, and perception, resulting in movies that can feel introspective to an almost granular level in their meditative examinations of the inherent foibles of human connections. That may sound like some terribly serious arthouse navel-gazing, but ultimately Hill of Freedom is surprisingly satisfying in its sheer — albeit abjectly disjointed – fish-out-of-water ordinariness.

Hill of Freedom is currently available as a virtual cinema release through local arthouse cinemas. Choose from:

• Violet Crown Cinema (Tickets here).

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Hill of Freedom, Hong Sang-soo, Ryo Kase, Moon So-ri, Seo Young-hwa, Kim Eui-sung, Youn Yuh-jung, Gi Ju-bong, Lee Min-woo

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