Short and modest even by director Hong Sang-soo's standards, the 69-minute Claire's Camera unfolds as a whimsical little riff on trust, infidelity and the reality-altering magnetism of Isabelle Huppert. And yet, while it's certainly the most effervescent of the three pictures the prolific Korean filmmaker premiered on the festival circuit in 2017, there are wells of real sadness and even anger.
Set in Cannes, Claire's Camera opens with three scenes depicting the firing of a young woman, Man-hee (Kim Min-hee), from her job at a Korean film sales company. As usual, most of Hong's film is built around such two- and three-person exchanges, and each conversation has a slightly off-balance dynamic. More often than not, one character tries their damnedest to be carefree -- even funny -- while the other wears a mask of concern. Ironically, it's usually the person trying to make light of things who's the one being hurt.
Man-hee's dismissal has been triggered by her brief affair with So Wan-soo (Jung Jin-young), an acclaimed Korean filmmaker. Into the picture walks Claire (played by guess who), a French high school teacher and amateur photographer on vacation in Cannes, who snaps the distraught Man-Hee's picture on the beach and then meets So at a local cafe. Unassuming to an almost hilarious degree, Claire has an uncanny ability to draw truths out of people and to take unguarded, surprisingly revealing portraits.
Hong has always been a master at capturing telling emotional details, but perhaps his real artistry lies in his ability to show how we cover up those details. His cinema is one of conveying that which is unseen and unheard but deeply felt.