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Mistress of Unceremonies

Cinema Guild

On the Beach at Night Alone (2017)

What the world needs now is not another movie about a young actress upset over the end of her relationship with a much older movie director. It’s just not. It’s not “On the Beach at Night Alone’s” fault that it’s going to be tanked by the zeitgeist, but it’s possibly also for the best.

The movie’s plot is paper thin: Actress Young-hee (Kim Min-hee) is visiting a friend in an unnamed German city. They drink coffee and smoke, hunched against the cold, and discuss the failures of their hearts and the loss of their hearts’ desires. Young-hee hints strongly that she would like to stay there; the friend deflects masterfully. So Young-hee returns to South Korea, to stay with some more painfully supportive friends in a beach resort. She spends forever ordering coffee in a manky little café. They look at apartments, bicker over snacks, have awkward arguments over very little. They get drunk and have painful dinner parties. They all agree a brand of beer has changed in taste. Then a little more plot happens, but the movie neatly sabotages that action with a trick that was an audience-insulting cliché when the famous television show did it in 1986. Maybe this critic has listened to too many friends nursing broken hearts. Maybe she has made too many supportive noises as people lay out in unasked-for detail why this totally wonderful and perfect relationship has blown up like a neutron bomb. Maybe she is just worn out after reading horrible story after horrible story about abuses taking place on the casting couch. Or maybe “On the Beach at Night Alone” just isn’t very good.

This critic also knows nothing about director Hong Sang-soo, but she’s willing to bet five pounds that this whole work of art is a message aimed at someone special. But Asia Argento has been run out of her home country, and more women are suddenly going on the record with their most unpleasant career experiences in the film industry. So it’s really hard to care about a movie director’s fantasy of a young woman’s obsession with an older, more powerful man. It’s not even an apology for doing her wrong. It’s just – it’s a warning. If you’re a young woman and you get involved with a powerful older man, you’re going to be discarded as soon as you want something from him (whether a better part or for him to leave his wife). Your career will suffer and you’ll shed a lot of tears and your friends are going to get really impatient with you. There will be unexplained men stalking you throughout the movie whose presence is both impossible to ignore and never commented on, and you’re supposed to smile through tears and inform everyone you’re fine, that you’re sorry for causing so much trouble.

You’re not fine. This is not fine. None of this is supposed to be fine.


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