Cafe Noir (Kape neuwareu) [2009] • South Korea

Cafe Noir is a linear quilt of set pieces and cinematic indulgences, vignette style. There are more than a half dozen scenes you could call music videos, gorgeous music videos with great music: Bach chorales, Korean indie funky dub, opera, Chinese avant-garde. The whole film is melancholy and these "music videos" barely raise its temperature. Except maybe the dance number near the end to the middle eastern grooves of Bill Laswell. Dance number?

The film is based on stories by Goethe and Dostoevsky. Most of the dialog is literary if not poetic. Beyond the inspirations and homages to great works of art, Cafe Noir is also steeped in gobs of religiosity ala Kim Ki-duk, and the academic musings on love of Hong Sang-soo, with plenty more nods to contemporary Korean cinema thrown in. There's a scene by the Han river where the uncle of the little girl who was killed in The Host talks about his feelings of loss. So Meta. The forlorn star of the second half is Hong regular Jung Yu-Mi. A scene where she says "fuck you, like you know it all!" will have Hong fans howling.

Viewers of the film familiar with Goethe, Dostoevsky and Classic Film auteurs will have a richer experience of the film than I did. Most of it was lost on me (except for some red balloons).

Cafe Noir is gorgeous.

Cafe Noir is pretentious. It's grandiose and overwhelming. It's punishingly thick and multi-layered. It's over three hours long and languidly paced. Characters in the film don't talk to one another the way normal people do, they deliver lines. Ten year old girls quote Goethe and pontificate about love with more wisdom than I'll ever possess.

Cafe Noir is the most amazing film experience I've had in years.


Director: Jung Sung-il
Starring: Ha-kyun Shin, Yumi Jung, Hye-na Kim, Jung-Hee Moon