Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema
"The Midwest Mecca of Architecture," otherwise known as Columbus, Indiana, is the stunning backdrop for video-essayist Kogonada’s fiction-feature debut. When an architecture professor lands comatose in a Columbus hospital, Jin (John Cho), his estranged literature-translator son, begrudgingly flies in from South Korea. A chance encounter with a local librarian, the notably younger Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), leads to a full-on tour of the local architectural wonders. This unlikely kinship, which may or may not be platonic, is built on a cerebral exchange: as a student of architecture, Casey enlightens Jin on his father’s field of study, and Jin, older and more world-weary, gives Casey advice on how to balance her own ambitions with her responsibilities to her mother, a recovering drug addict.
Columbus finds originality and Ozu-like serenity in what could’ve been just another Sundance indie about young adults finding their way. As fastidiously blueprinted and constructed as the modernist marvels it depicts, Kogonada’s formally impressive film is clean and controlled, even as it sublimates its deep, unkempt emotion.
"With a minimum of gestural expression and an evident depth of thought, [Richardson] delivers some heart-stopping moments of erudite whimsy that masks abysses of hidden vulnerability. Few performances—and few films—glow as brightly with the gemlike fire of precocious genius."—Richard Brody, New Yorker