A young woman goes to see her grandfather in hospital. He is suffering deeply from depression, and clearly some additional mental illnesses because he is soon chasing a cleaning lady around the ward with a knife. Before long that sequence is broken as a gaffer interrupts the shoot – we are actually watching a film being made – and accuses the director of not knowing what love really is, and that lacking that understanding is not qualified to direct his own film. Half-quitting, half-fired, the anonymous gaffer storms off the set, stealing one of the shoot’s film reels in the process. Then the film becomes impressively, maddeningly weird.
Love and… is a 2015 arthouse film from South Korea, and is directed by Chinese-Korean filmmaker Zhang Lu. It seems to deconstruct the act of making films, running through a series of tightly defined chapters. In one, the camera simply roams eerily around the hospital location where the opening sequence was made. In another, the viewer is sent through a montage of scenes from other films that star the same actors. It is a relatively short affair, running somewhere in the region of 70 minutes; this is something of a relief, since a little arthouse cinema usually goes a very long way.
It is a particularly art-oriented affair too. There is something deeply absurd about Zhang’s film: not simply non-commercial but actively anti-commercial. There is next to no story to be experienced, and no real attempt to expand upon or enhance any of the on-screen characters. An entire section is not even Zhang’s film, but moments from other people’s – each of them played out without sound and dialogue replaced by silent film-era intertitles. The film’s climactic section – if you can call it that – replays the first scene shot-for-shot with the actors all off-screen. Zhang explores the idea of cinema in different ways, but one person’s fascinating exploration is another person’s chore. This is not a film ever likely to have been seen outside of a festival, or a university library. It does stimulate a sort of intellectual fascination, but not only is it not enjoyable the very word “enjoyable” feels an inappropriate one to even apply. This is a science experiment in movie form.
Rather surprisingly, for what it is, Love and… boasts a really strong cast of Korean actors, including Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder), Ahn Sung-ki (Musa, Arahan), Moon So-ri (A Good Lawyer’s Wife), and Han Ye-ri (Haemoo). This ensures the brief dramatic sections are fairly watchable, but also generate a small sense of disappointment every time the film moves away from showcasing them.
This is an extremely difficult film to review. My own personal method usually involves asking three questions of a work: firstly, what is it trying to do? Secondly, does it succeed in that aim? Finally, and simply, is it any good? As an experiment in isolating individual elements of a dramatic work, I think it certainly is a success. As to whether or not it can be called a good film, I honestly do not have an answer.