I remembered staring at Columbus’s credit scene with a slight tinge of melancholy in my heart, but at the same time, I was at peace. Video essayist turned writer and director Kogonada’s first foray into filmmaking was one that showed the sophistication and mastery of a veteran. One could say Columbus is an exploration of passions, desires, worries, and regrets, but that doesn’t quite capture the film. Think a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day, sweet and bitter with a much-needed warmth. A quietness of different flavors.
When an architecture professor had fallen ill, his estranged son came from Seoul to the small town of Columbus to stand by his sickbed. This unfortunate event was the start of Lee Jin (John Cho), and Cassandra (Haley Lu Richardson), a local architecture enthusiast’s, unlikely relationship. Two lost souls strolled through modernist buildings and opened their hearts to each other. Things they couldn’t say to others flowed between them with genuine familiarity. One of Columbus’s biggest strengths is not what it said, but rather the emotions it evoked. The dialogue was slow but always engaging, and on top of that, both leads delivered a grounded and warm performance. In one scene, Jin asked Casey why she liked this bank they were standing in front of, interrupting her tour-guide-like trivia recital. The camera then moved to the building’s interior, Casey opened her mouth and gestured. Although it was soundless except the ever soothing soundtrack, we know, for the first time in a long while, she was heard, and everything was fine.
The duo met up in sessions and walked around the town meticulously framed by the gorgeous cinematography. The cinematography does not let up for even a second; every frame was exquisitely composed. Casey once lamented that local residents didn’t appreciate the omnipresent architecture. I empathize with her; the beauty of these structures was indisputable! While architecture had a constant presence on screen, it never got in the way of the story. The almost always still camera made sure the focus stayed on the people. Architecture became Jin and Casey’s bond, and the medium they immersed themselves in.
As they went down her list of favorite buildings and visited a mental hospital, they stood by a river and talked about a bridge being both literal and metaphorical, designed with the purpose of healing in mind. In a way, this film is both a literal and metaphorical stroll. Their conversation had no definite destination. But the point of a stroll was not getting somewhere; it is the journey, the act of exploring and savoring every step one takes. Columbus does not have a message to hammer it’s audience with; it achieved emotional resonance by being its natural self. Everything was executed with a genuine touch. It relished in its quietness and drew me in with elegant ease. “Thank you, for being here”, Columbus.