This is the customary sentence noting it can be easy to take Hong Sangsoo for granted. The prolificacy of which should tell us he’s as appreciated as ever, and so if he’s not, in actuality, taken for granted it’s still easy to lose the forest for the trees–certainly when 2022 brought The Novelist’s Film (one of his best in years) and Walk Up, which was not a personal favorite but nifty character piece all the same.

All this said: I do suspect something special is brewing with this month’s Berlinale selection in water, which from title (every source presents all-lowercase) to 61-minute runtime (his shortest-ever feature) alone suggests a shift. But sources also tell us the entire film is out-of-focus, a rumor the brief teaser and Berlin’s description (“each and every image has been carefully crafted, like an impressionist painting”) lean towards entirely. As Hong’s lovely Letter to the New York Film Festival let on his vision has been failing in recent years, the story of a filmmaker told in similar fashion suggests remarkable self-portraiture.

Watch the preview by clicking the still:

A young actor decides to give up acting and make a short film. The small crew comprising the actor himself, the cameraman and the female lead arrive on rocky, windswept Jeju Island. In search of an idea, the young actor explores the surroundings, waits for the right light to emerge and watches the horizon from the coast. One day he catches a glimpse of a figure amid the rocks at the bottom of a cliff, and this prompts him to take the plunge and exchange a few words. Thanks to this conversation, and a love song written years earlier, he finally has a story to tell. Hong Sangsoo returns to the Berlinale with his most intimate and poetic film in which each and every image has been carefully crafted, like an impressionist painting. The result is an aquarium in which you would love to be immersed.

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