Columbus Review

The quiet indie drama “Columbus” won’t win over many mainstream moviegoers, but cinema academic-turned-filmmaker Kogonada has crafted a visually immaculate feature debut that can be compared to little else.

As artistically distinctive as the film may be, the story will feel familiar: A man named Jin (John Cho) ends up in the rural town of Columbus, Indiana when his father goes into a coma and meets a young woman named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) unable to uproot herself from this modern architecture mecca. Their collision of perspectives as they tour her favorite buildings and learn about each other’s challenges and hopes makes up the reflective heart of the narrative.

Yet there’s a third obvious character in this story and that’s Columbus. Not its people or culture, but its structures. Kogonada makes the presence of this setting palpable in most every shot. As we follow Jin and Casey from location to location, even the ones not designed by skilled architects, we’re given time to absorb their surroundings, which may make us feel something that influences our perspective on the story. As the characters take in these thoughtfully designed structures, so do we. Imagine watching a play in an art museum – that’s the best way to describe the dual artistic nature of “Columbus.”

The choices Kogonada and cinematographer Elisha Christian make with the camera and lighting prove to be everything in this film. The calculation, symmetry and blocking show a meticulous amount of thought, detail and planning. Every shot is its own portrait, as though the film is a 100-minute contemporary art exhibition. Some portraits will move you more than others. Plus, there’s the additional layer of how that portrait influences not just the viewer’s perception, but the story unfolding.

Kogonada doesn’t care much for plot specifics, and to a degree that fences us off from these characters because we can only invest so deeply in their personal conflicts, but the portraits of Jin and especially Casey are extensive enough that we have plenty to observe and react to in the film. Richardson’s performance stands out the most in the way she continues to wrestle with her guarded nature and self-prescribed future and begins to lose a grip on her emotional control.

Foremost, “Columbus” is a reflective viewing experience. With almost no film score, we’re not meant to get enthralled by the film so much as bring our attention to it and experience it in this visual, contemplative way. It requires an appreciation for the craft of creating a frame to be sure, but it’s good enough that it might make some new film appreciation “students” out of more casual indie film fans.


4/5 Stars


Written and Directed by Kogonada
Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey

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