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Columbus review - painfully pretentious ode to architecture


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Verdict: good performances can't save this film from a flood of pretentious nonsense.

John Cho stars in this meandering character study about Jin, the son of an ailing Korean architect, who ends up stranded in Columbus while his father is in hospital. Columbus is the directorial debut of Korean born writer and video essayist Kogonada.

There he meets Casey (Hayley Lu Richardson), a girl with a passion for architecture whose responsibility to her recovering addict mother has kept her from going away to college to pursue her dreams.

This odd pair, though both talented actors, struggle to contend with the clunky script. The very presence of architecture is its own character in the film, and though central to the piece, this is also its greatest downfall. Visually, it’s compellingly asymmetrical, but the visuals are a crutch that allows the narrative to be lazy. The dialogue relies on pretentious architectural metaphor, which comes across as ingenuine rather than simply stylised.

I can’t help but think that the ideas would have been communicated better in a short film rather than feature length, since it drags considerably throughout. Some ideas would have been better off being scrapped entirely though — specifically the weird sexual undertones in the relationship between the two figures.

The film expertly manages to both patronise and sexualise the young woman at its centre — a figure constructed specifically to help Jin come to terms with his complicated relationship with his father through her own parallel relationship with her mother. Her love of and knowledge about architecture is framed as something which makes him “fall in love” with her, rather than her own passion. Everything about Casey is framed around Jin. It’s an uncomfortable age gap, and though they only dance around it in the film, it doesn’t make viewing any less uncomfortable.

Though both characters push each other to confront things they’d rather avoid, the outcome is so predictable that it makes the audience impatient and therefore less forgiving of the artistic choices made throughout the film.

Cho is brusque and cold, effectively conveying the emotional distance of his character, while Richardson’s performance echoes Eliza Scanlen’s as Amma in Sharp Objects. Despite this talent, the film really is a chore to get through.

Columbus is in UK cinemas on October 5th.

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