IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE
당신 얼굴 앞에서Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Cho Yun-hee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Lee Hye-young
Official Selection, 2021 Cannes Film Festival
“There’s so much we don’t know about each other.” Veteran actress Sangok (played by 1980s-90s star Lee Hye-young) has just returned to Korea after spending years living abroad in America, and her sister Jeongok (Jo Yoonhee) is the first to vocalize the consequences of their lengthy estrangement. That such a sobering confession is uttered in front of a picturesque riverside landscape reveals the stinging tonal contradictions that will populate much of Hong Sang-soo’s IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.
In both of Hong’s films from 2021 (including Introduction), the prolific master seems most interested in reflecting on the past to preserve an understanding of the present, while the future remains uncertain. Sangok personifies this motif beautifully: she’s primarily come back to experience the feelings of home and artistic expression that once defined her life as a young actress.
After spending time with her sister, Sangok travels to their childhood home in the countryside and befriends the current owners before continuing on to a booze-fueled lunch meeting with an acclaimed film director (Kwon Hae-hyo), who’s eager to cast her in his new film. All of these experiences either confirm or challenge Sangok’s assumptions about her previous life, a foggy moment in time that’s slowly coming back into focus. In this regard, IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE is a masterful character study, leaving space for the power of fresh human connection, while revealing the hilariously bitter irony of falling for such a ruse one last time.
—Glenn Heath Jr.