Columbus, featuring terrific performances by Haley Lu Richardson, John Cho and Parker Posey, is a subtle, deeply humanist first feature from director Kogonada
Columbus, the masterful feature debut of director Kogonada – an academic turned video essayist for the likes of Sight & Sound – is a film heavily focused on architecture, with formalism at the forefront of its aesthetic. By no means, though, is this film a rigid, cold exercise.
Casey (Richardson) is a native of Columbus, Indiana, the modernist architecture capital of America. A recent high school graduate, she’s a part-time librarian trying to decide her next life step, having put off college for a year thanks to her co-dependent relationship with her troubled mother (Forbes). Jin (Cho), meanwhile, is in the city to attend to his father, a Korean architecture scholar who collapsed on the college grounds and is in a coma.
Columbus is a deeply humanist film in the vein of Richard Linklater and Yasujirō Ozu, and one way of describing it is as a melding of those two filmmakers’ styles and interests: a string of conversation-heavy encounters between a man and a woman proving life-altering (à la Linklater’s Before trilogy, though the relationship here is platonic), particularly when it comes to characters’ notions of familial relationships and whether or not to keep their lives on hold for their commitments to their parents (à la various Ozu works).
While that’s the gist of the narrative thrust, Kogonada repeatedly complicates the interactions, be it through traits like Casey’s insecurities regarding her lot in life or the striking placement of characters in the modernist structures’ negative spaces, which helps accentuate their respective isolation and trauma.
While everyone in this does fine work, including Parker Posey as Jin’s father’s colleague, Richardson is a revelation, conveying an ocean of burning passion and curiosity even in moments of prolonged tranquillity, where she simply absorbs the surroundings that fascinate her so. She’s the beating heart of this warm, quietly devastating drama that has plenty to offer for those open to something subtle.
Columbus played in the First Feature Competition at London Film Festival, and is currently without UK distribution