Release Date: N/A
Duration: 73 mins.
Director: Sohn Koo-yong
Starring: Noh Seung-hyun
Featured in Yamagata International Film Festival’s New Asian Currents program, a section dedicated to works that invite you “… to worlds captured and imagined by the filmmakers”, Sohn Koo-yong’s Afternoon Landscape draws us into scenes of a town in Seoul on a balmy summer’s day that feel they are drawn from memory.
Life moves at a quiet pace in these scenes, the settings of which feel like a suburban place as we see sleepy sun-dappled streets, riversides, small clothing stores, and more. Mountains form a backdrop for some places and there is a sense that these areas are where the city and countryside meet. The soundscape of cicadas, passing traffic, flowing water, and leaves that rustle together with every gust of wind add to the atmosphere of these slice-of-life moments which feel rife with nostalgia.
What we see are snapshots of liminal spaces caught via a static camera and long takes observing people and domestic animals going about their day-to-day business. These images, taken individually as records of a city, might suggest some objective observation – especially as very few people acknowledge the presence of the camera – but a woman with a camera of her own, played by Noh Seung-hyun, wanders through many of the scenes.
This woman doesn’t interact with anyone on screen, save a cat, but she does photograph her surroundings and luxuriate in the sights and sounds they offer. She sits on a bench, uses a playground swing, reads a book in a park. It is like she is reliving memories accrued during her childhood and adolescence. I say this partly because these scenes are couched between playful observational writing and charcoal drawings by the artist Ham So-yeon who uses a childlike scrawl so that they have a picture-book aspect to them, a naivete. These words and images presage the live-action moments and it suggests a bit of psycho-geography – the revisiting of places that define the childhood of someone, places that have been frozen in aspic and the woman/camera is revisiting. These things and the 4:3 aspect ratio of the image suggests an 80s or 90s kid taking a walk down memory lane.
This may be a misreading of the film on my part – director Sohn Koo-yong specialises in exploring the more ignored parts of Seoul’s urban topography and his previous short documentary Winter in Seoul (2018) was featured in Yamgata 2019’s New Asian Currents program – but I have taken to searching my own memories in recent times and, to my surprise, it is packed with traversing liminal spaces and the moments in between events – leaving school early and reading Haruki Murakami or Paul Beatty in a park before going home, walking through a vegetable field to a train station to meet a friend in Kyoto (more recent) and watching a crane, walking with my mother and sister through Bristol. As I get older, I get more concerned about memories and wish to make more with loved ones but the clutter of everyday places will remain and this is what director Sohn Koo-yong’s film reminded me of.
The gentle atmosphere might be healing or soporific, it all depends upon the viewer, but it is always pleasant and it made me emotional at points to drift through the sights and sounds in this film as I became wrapped up in what was on screen and thought about my own history. The music by Yu Tae-young, ambient noises that sort of sound like the chimes of a clock that have been distended, are highly influential to this perception of time regained. It is very much like entering a world, but one specific to the memory of the director and using that as a jumping off point. It is like a unique experience that is sure to evoke a myriad of memories for each person who watches it.
“I’ve told you the story of my memories. I hope it somehow becomes even just a tiny piece of your memory. Cheers!”
You can find more of the director’s work on his Vimeo channel