Columbus - best movie of 2017 so far

Saw this last night. Best movie of 2017 so far. Here is a review which may have spoilers. (I haven’t read it.)


I watched this last night because I don’t have Showtime and couldn’t watch the director’s latest film, After Yang (which sounds great).

As a guy who–presumably like the director, Kogonada–has an amateur interest in architecture, it was easy to sell me on a film about a young student infatuated with architecture, the son of an architecture professor, and the city of Columbus, Indiana.

If you don’t know why Columbus–but not the one in Ohio–is a vital element here, it’s because the city just south of Indianapolis by happenstance became a mecca of modernist architecture in the 60s and 70s. It actually was kicked off in the 40s, with Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church, then he was followed by his son Eero and many other luminaries of late modernism like I.M. Pei. Eero designed the house of J. Irwin Miller, who was the CEO of the local diesel engine company and the financier of all of Columbus’ state-of-the-art buildings. There are dozens of notable buildings in Columbus, as well as bridges and large public sculptures.

Kogonada’s film takes you on a tour of many sites in the city, sometimes shot stark and silent as a sort of scene-setting, and sometimes as the backdrop for ruminative conversations between the film’s protagonists, played by Haley Lu Richardson (see Edge of Seventeen) and John Cho (Star Trek, etc). She is Casey, a local book shelver at the library and daughter of a single factory-worker mom. He is Jin, a book translator who comes reluctantly to Columbus from Seoul when his esteemed father falls into a coma while on a lecture tour.


The film is almost primal in how it brings together her and him and one remarkable environment after another and just lets the three catalyze and give off a welcome low-key warmth.

It’s not a romance. It’s not a journey of self-discovery. It’s not an essay on architecture (a couple times Casey starts to rattle off facts about their location, but Jin is quick to tell her he doesn’t want a tour guide). There’s something of Lost in Translation in the film–the chance meeting of two disparate characters at the fortuitously perfect time and place. It works nicely as a portrait of an unlikely relationship.

But there are also deeper thematic threads. The film works like poetry–repeating, reflecting, and refracting its elements through each character’s situation: Two parents, with different diseases; their two children, both torn by their responsibilities. There are two stunted relationships–between Jin and his father’s assistant (Parker Posey) and Casey and the blowhard scholar who visits her at the library (Rory Culkin). There are bridges. There are walls. Staying, and going.

Did I mention there’s Parker Posey?

This is not a film that’s aiming for either fireworks or waterworks. There’s a bit of Linklater’s easy-going realism, as well as Wes Anderson’s staid symmetry. But Kogonada switches out tidy poetry for Linklater’s rambling philosophy, and relatability for Anderson’s artifice. It has the shape of architecture–it invites you in, keeps you warm, guides you gently to the next room; it lets you ascend to the next level, at your leisure.

It’s on Kanopy right now if you have a library card, or can be rented on Amazon, etc. Hopefully the same can soon be said of Kogonada’s second film, After Yang. (He’s apparently also involved in the just-launched Apple TV+ show Pachinko, which I know nothing about.)

It’s been years since I saw this, and I don’t have anything to add except “Yup, all of this.” A real pleasure to just watch and absorb.

The folks I was with weren’t as impressed—one fell asleep (not enough “drama”) and another quibbled about something else but I don’t remember what.

But if you’re in the mood for a thoughtful, beautifully shot, slow-to-unfold character (and location) study, this is really worth checking out.