Every once in a while, a specific type of movie comes along.
It's not a movie that thrills, excites, scares, or makes you laugh. The type of movie I'm talking about is one that transports the viewer not by what it depicts, but instead by what it doesn't.
The most recent movie I've seen that does that is 2017's Columbus.
Written and directed by South Korean filmmaker Koganada, Columbus stars John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson.
Jin (Cho) is an American who works in Korea. When his estranged father suddenly falls into a coma, he finds himself stuck in the American town of Columbus, Indiana. There he meets Casey (Richardson), a young woman who works for the local library and feels she must stay in Columbus to care for her mother, a recovering drug addict, instead of pursuing her own goals.
The two eventually cross paths and begin to spend their time exploring the city, a place rich with architectural history. They ponder what the architects had intended for the buildings to mean and they explore what the structures mean to them as individuals.
In one of the film's strongest scenes, Casey introduces Jin to her second favorite building in the city (her first being a specific house). The building is a bank, one of the first modernist style banks in the country. As she begins to explain the architect's intention for its design, Jin interrupts and tells her he isn't interested in hearing the basic facts. Instead, he wants to hear why she likes it. Why it's her second favorite building in the city. Why it moves her.
The best part is, we never directly find out.
As Casey begins to explain, the camera shifts to inside the bank looking out. Behind the large glass windows are our main characters. As she answers the question, we don't hear her words, but what we do see is the expression on her face, her body language, and Jin's reaction. All of this set to a score by the band Hammock (a band which I highly recommend).
It's the type of scene which isn't common in most of today's films. Rather than directly tell us what is going on in a character's mind and heart, it is implied; or rather it isn't necessary to know. What is important is that Casey is moved.
Columbus continuously leaves out certain details you would expect it to have. For example, Jin's hospitalized father is a large part of the plot, but he is never actually shown in the hospital, he is barely onscreen at all. There are elements of romance between the two leads, but they don't even share a single kiss throughout the entire movie.
The film's strengths lie within what it decides to depict and what it doesn't.
There is a theme of presence and absence throughout and most everything in the movie reflects that.
As the film continues to take us to countless incredible landmarks around the city, Casey and Jin continue to converse. They discuss everything from their pasts to goals to smartphones. Eventually, they come around to the problems they are currently struggling with. Casey feels she can't leave Columbus because of her mother and Jin wants nothing more than to leave the city because of his strained relationship with his father.
This is where our characters really make a connection.
All of this and more is depicted through some of the most gorgeous cinematography you will see from any recent film. Shots are composed down to the most minute detail. Huge wide-shots show off the scale of the locations around the city. Many scenes are long takes where the camera doesn't move. In fact, I believe there are only two scenes where the camera actually does. There are even scenes that play out entirely within the reflections of mirrors.
If you like shot composition, then this is a movie for you.
The best thing that can be said about Columbus is that it is a film that transports the viewer. It takes you to a place that most are unfamiliar with. It allows you to get to know not only these two characters but also the setting they exist within.
It may even want to make you visit Columbus yourself.