Hill of Freedom – Hong Sang-Soo’s films about unrequited love never fall into predictable patterns, even if they’re all exceedingly similar. The same holds true for Hill of Freedom. Hong’s latest narrative puzzle features Mori, a young Japanese man heartsick for a Korean girl he befriended when they worked together in Korea. Returning to the language institute where they both worked, he fails to find her and leaves behind a long, travel-diary letter that the film plays out in only tangentially coherent vignettes as he drinks, socializes, and has sex with new friends at a guesthouse and cafe. In other words, the film sounds like a Hong creation. In Hill, time is Tralfamadorian, with certain details about Mori’s love life shown to be mismatching across different scenes, spelling out a lyrical narrative discontinuity that feels thematically resonant instead of confusing.
It Follows – The basic allegorical premise of this small but dandy horror flick, about a young woman who contracts a sexually transmitted haunt, is something out of Buffy (or Angel, which actually does have a strikingly similar episode). After making what seemed like the right choice to sleep with a boy, Jay is first in denial and then horrified to find out that she’s now contracted some inexplicable condition in which ghosts keep trying to kill her. From that point on, Jay is always on the run, keeping an eye out for strange beings or things that hunt her down, Terminator-style, whom no one else can see. As a metaphor for the messiness and awkwardness of adolescent sexuality, is somewhat successful. It wisely never suggests that the film is about rape, but offers a broader, universal idea that sexual practices are a confusing and emotional experience for teens and offer plenty of trauma no matter what. But because the film is more interested in substantiating the logical conclusions of its premise, the ideas are tossed aside as Jay and her friends try to outwit the paranormal.
Amour Fou – This is less a historical dramatization of the suicide pact of German poet Heinrich von Kleist and his friend Henriette Vogel in 1811, and more a tragicomic damnation of the blindness of 19th-century European aristocracy. The tableaux-like shots, so rigorously composed, frame people who don’t quite appear to be fully fleshed out human beings, their polished clothes and steadfast faces suggesting they’ve stepped out of a painting. These stylistic devices underscore the absurdity of the story: Heinrich asks the married Henriette, of whom he’s quite fond, to love him in death instead of in life. He’ll shoot her and then himself. His is a strange, nihilistic perspective, and one that the susceptible but initially resistant Henriette increasingly comes to accept and take on as her own. The film explores this moribund story in such an absurdist fashion that one can’t help but laugh out loud for the character’s propensity for self-deception, yet this strangely doesn’t hinder one’s appreciation for the real emotional and cognitive trials and tribulations of its characters.