I was asked today if I liked The Day He Arrives more after seeing it for five days in a row. And I said, and type here, that although it’s not my favorite Hong Sangsoo film, I have grown to enjoy it more. Part of my positive evolution towards the film has to do with the fact that I was really sleepy when I first saw it and have been wide awake for all these screenings. (Pedaling to screenings after work helps wake you up.) But the main reason for finding more to appreciate about the film is that the pleasure in a Hong film is the re-watching. Patterns and repetitions fall tightly together with each re-visit.
I don’t feel there are very many directors for whom I could commit to this week long daily devotion. Perhaps Aki Kaurismäki, but maybe not. It definitely helps that Hong’s films, like Kaurismäki’s, stay below the 90 minute threshold for the most part. When the cast of The Day He Arrives gets to the scene that was used so cleverly in reverse for the trailer, the drunken flagging of the cab in the early morning snow, I know we are close to the end. But this being a Hong film, we are far from establishing closure for his characters.
With its shorter running time, The Day He Arrives is the perfect film to take a risk on, unlike the over 2 1/2 hour commitment that was Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse, which recently had its own run at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema before the launching of the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival in late April. Even with a running time that limited the number of screenings, it looks like The Turin Horse did better than The Day He Arrives in attendence. So far, up til the 5 pm screening of the fifth day of its run, there were only 120 folks that bothered to step away from their computers or their TVs to watch Hong’s film on film in a theatre. I am partly responsible for 11 of those attendees, 5 for myself, and 6 for those I’ve strongly or subtly encouraged to attend.
I’d be sad about this fact if it weren’t for the fact that I, like many cinephiles, particularly fans of the less appreciated films/directors, have resolved that this is just our present state of the world. I will enjoy time in the cinema as much as I can, even if it’s just me and one other patron, which was the case for this evening’s showing.
If anything, the loneliness of the San Francisco Film Society Cinema during The Day He Arrives resonates with Seong-jun’s lament about how few people have seen his films, even though he keeps running into people who apparently have, such as his friends, colleagues struggling in the industry, a couple of film students, and that sole non-film-industry-related fan who locks her eyes on him, and then her camera. Similarly, even out of so few who have seen the film, I have had many conversations with my wife, my friends, a co-worker, and SF Film Society staff about the film, and, of course, here online. As long as this can last, I won’t take the opportunities to see films like Hong’s for granted.