In the midst of awards season, with the Oscars just around the corner, there could not be a better time to watch Claire’s Camera, Hong Sang-Soos’s self-mocking retrospective on the movie industry shot in its entirety at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

In the build up to the year’s most prestigious awards event, the Oscars have made life increasingly difficult for themselves. So far, the ceremony’s organisers have*deep breath*:

1) Hired Kevin Hart as host before subsequently firing him for homophobic tweets uncovered from 2009.

2) Announced a “Most Popular Film” award before rescinding it as most people thought it was a terrible idea.

3) Declared that several awards (including Cinematography and Editing) would be given during the commercial break in order to reduce its three hour run time. Typically, this plan has also undergone a U-Turn, with Alfonso Cuaron amongst a group of seasoned industry professionals taking fault with the decision, saying that “No one single film has ever existed without Cinematography and editing”. Fair point. Oh, and..

4) They also this year decided that Bohemian Rhapsody (a big old Brian Singer shaped can of worms that we will choose not to open here) may as well receive five nominations, despite being… well… anyway, it’s been a strange build up.

To recap, with the Oscars ceremony only one week away, now might just be a good time to remind ourselves not to takes films, film festivals or awards ceremonies quite so seriously.

Claire’s Camera follows teacher and part time photographer, Claire, (Isabelle Huppert) during her visit to the Cannes Film Festival. As she ingratiates herself into her surroundings on the French Riviera, Claire becomes unwittingly involved in the sexual politics surrounding one film’s production team.

What ensues next? Where does the plot go? Arguably, nowhere, nowhere at all.

Jung Jinyoung and Isabelle Huppert in Claire's Camera Credit: Jeonwonsa Film

Jung Jinyoung and Isabelle Huppert in Claire’s Camera   Credit: Jeonwonsa Film

Hong Sang-Soo makes us a fly on the wall for one company’s run at the festival, and the result is a decidedly awkward watch (about as awkward as a three hour award ceremony complete with sanctimonious speeches).

However, it must be noted that such awkwardness is not specific to Claire’s Camera, as it is a trait Hong Sang-Soo has long been associated with. The film is naturalistic to the point of being mundane and at first, I found attempts to get into it laborious.

With its unbearably long takes, perhaps it was this film that gave credence to the view that the art of editing is one that could be relegated to a commercial break. Through a mix of slow pans, deep zooms and never-ending takes, the film presents the guise of having smuggled a camera into Cannes unnoticed, and simply gone on to point and shoot.

As one character poignantly asserts, “It’s so hard to make an honest film”. This view provides the inspiration and impetuous for Sang-Soo’s piece. Unfortunately, in its attempt to make an “honest film”, Claire’s Camera sacrifices the pleasure of witnessing a piece that feels in anyway cinematic.

Polarising is, I imagine, is best to describe audience reactions to films such as this. There is no two ways about it. For the first twenty minutes, I hated it. Simple as that. But gradually my attitude changed and by about the midpoint, I was beginning to see the film for its incredible, albeit slightly warped, beauty.

Ultimately, the effect of Sang Soo’s very individual style is bewitching. The last half of the film is spellbinding and left me wondering whether someone had actually managed to trick me into enjoying this film.

 

Verdict: ★★★

 

For those of you intrigued about this review, or simply looking to enjoy a comedy about the ridiculousness of practices in the film industry in the run up to awards season, Claire’s Camera is available on Mubi for the next 24 days.