Where Two Weeks in the Noonday Sun, a book by film critic Roger Ebert on Cannes Film Festival, left a dour impression of what should be the dream for any film fan, Claire’s Camera takes a different route of misery. Hong Sang-soo, director and writer of this Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee led piece, is all about deceit and dishonesty. Fired from her job, Manhee (Min-hee) looks for meaning once more. There are worse places to look for reason than Cannes, its sunny beaches, beautiful scenery and film festival additions, for some, are to die for. Glum, drained characters are hard to sympathise with when they are soaking up the sun, cinema and fine food. It is why Ebert’s book smacked of self-pity, but somehow Sang-soo avoids these pitfalls.
His ability to do so is, primarily, because his characters are likeable. Likeable does not mean interesting, though, and while the amicable charms of Min-hee carry the charming introductions, they do not elicit emotions from the consistent conversations found throughout. Friends discuss confidence and relationships, sip on coffee and struggle not to shiver as the gusts of wind pick up. Characters come and go, but all feel awkward on the streets of Cannes. A love of the festival this fine city hosts is implied but never acted upon. This would be strange, but considering Claire’s Camera lasts barely an hour, it is not like it has time to offer up token moments of prose-heavy ideas or deep commentary on the psyche of these leading characters.
What it can do, though, is offer a slideshow of Sang-soo’s directing tricks. They do capture a nice, luxurious environment, one I would rather walk on my own than view through a screen. As characters stand on the beach, overlooking the crisp, blue ocean, discussing the future of Manhee, the odd zooms from Min-hee not only throw us off the scent but remind us that he has not fallen asleep at the camera. He pushes forth, closer to the characters, as if thrusting us into the backs of these moving figures would make any difference to the impact of their words. Acting is part spoken word, part facial recognition. Why Sang-soo has his characters face away from the camera is puzzling, because it does make all the difference when the dialogue needs the visual cues that suggest changes in emotion.
Claire’s Camera sounds fun and intrinsically interesting on paper, but in practice, it is just an excuse for Huppert, Min-hee and Sang-soo to wander the beaches of Cannes, feeling sorry for one another. That titular camera rarely comes into play, as we are meant to be spending our time grovelling at the feet of these down and out characters. Why bother? They’ll land on their feet soon enough, that is what a happy ending is for. There are brief moments, though, that is undeniable. Nice direction here, a good performance there. Our leading pair isn’t bad per se, but they are not giving off a lasting impression or cementing themselves as truly dedicated to a film about all the topics one could wish to come across in Cannes’ noonday sun.