Jung Sung-il’s Cafe Noir is one of the most remarkable experiences that I have ever been lucky enough to catch all year and the obscurity of such a beautiful film is only something truly saddening to hear. At a length going a little above three hours there’s never a dull moment within this slice of life for instead in all the slow moments some of the most beautifully touching pieces of cinema to have come out from this century. Something so simple and so tender, but so bizarre – it would be easy to say Cafe Noir has everything and maybe that is perhaps what it is.
Cafe Noir is a film which tells a story venturing through Seoul about an isolated man on Christmas Eve and the quest to which his own breakup has taken him. On this journey through Seoul, something more overwhelming comes upon our man as greater discovery comes his way in regards to what the world is presenting through seemingly small interactions as he follows a random girl, after falling in love only upon sight. Something about observing these small interactions almost hit me in a manner akin to what I loved most about watching the films of Woody Allen, where the dialogue between characters offers some food for thought for some audiences and yet they still fit into their situation perfectly. Perhaps I would imagine it was Jung Sung-il’s intention to make a film that has supposedly “everything” and it fits to describe Cafe Noir.
One thing that caught me was the three hour length, because a film with such a simple topic from its outside can easily sustain a length of less than two hours. Yet in this slightly above three hour length, there’s never a single moment in which it is ever boring even with its relatively slow pacing. As a matter of fact there’s something about this incredible running time that only makes me all the more fascinated by everything going on, as it creates a distanced feeling which brings oneself closer to the psychology of its protagonist, an isolated man unsure of a sense of direction inside of a world full of so many different possibilities leading somewhere. Sooner it all just flashed right in my face.
When I noticed something was odd about the line delivery in Cafe Noir especially with the sounds of literature coming in, I was soon reminded of the work of Woody Allen and Eric Rohmer, and why there was always a thoughtful vibe coming soon. My best guess is that Jung Sung-il was set to create something so evocative of such through use of classic literature (Goethe and Dostoevsky apparently being significant influences on the film’s story) in order to form a sense of wisdom amidst what more it depicts all at the same time. I’ve noted already that there was an aim to create a film that could have as much of “everything” as possible and ranging from the feeling of exploring such a world to the bits of Korean culture present, I can only ever say it succeeded.
Yet what we still can recognize as “beautiful” is a sort of odd deconstruction on art in itself. Cafe Noir does take convention but in a sense what we are witnessing is in some sense almost like a grasp on what we love, showing what we love most, yet alienating us and not at the same time. A piece of art that feels as if it is just aware how everything is set amidst motion, giving emphasis on action which seems small such as background detail, though soon making everything out to become much more. Maybe that was why it ended up creating that isolating feeling, we as viewers want to keep ourselves focused on a singular story which we recognize from how the film opens and then suddenly Jung Sung-il turns everything into both a film telling this story and one about the entire world around said person.
Cafe Noir is a film worth rambling about – for what Jung Sung-il creates is some sort of an experiment moving everywhere. It’s film so overwhelming to a point there’s no defining term to describe what it leaves. Some terms can go from “anything” or “pretentious” but that’s only a perfect way for anyone to have their expectations set before they witness such a treasure. This is one of the most beautiful films about art, together with a disconnect from the human soul, to have come out of the 21st century. Nothing ever prepared me for what was set to come along, for the immersive nature of the intention and the craft finally had been put together in order to form an entire universe in itself. Not one in the sense that it’s a movie’s own world, but much more – one that enters our own thoughts as we enter itself. It’s not just a film anymore we are talking, a whole other world is what the slightly-more-than three hours of Cafe Noir is.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Film JoseE.
Directed by Jung Sung-il
Screenplay by Jung Sung-il
Produced by Kim Jong-won
Starring Jung Yoo-mi, Jung In-Sun, Shin Ha-kyun
Release Year: 2009
Running Time: 197 minutes