Hong Sang-Soo's Night and Day at the New York Film Festival
Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore has cast a long shadow over our movies since its 1973 release, but because it screens infrequently and because it remains unavailable on DVD (second-hand VHS copies start at $47.95 on Amazon) many young filmgoers know of it solely from a poster belonging to Jesse Eisenberg's character in The Squid and the Whale. The ne plus ultra of talky French movies, The Mother and the Whore follows the daily life of a deadbeat Parisian bohemian (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who chases the ladies—an a icy immigrant nurse, in particular—while poncing off his older girlfriend (Bernadette Lafont). Set almost entirely in well-known Left Bank cafes and in the cramped flat Leaud and Lafont share, it's a three-hour misery fest of drunken outbursts, sentimental political arguments, and bumbling attempts to get laid.
So when Korean director Hong Sang-soo decided to set his latest tale of horny men behaving badly in the City of Lights, The Mother and the Whore was his obvious model. Hong's Night and Day, which will play at the Ziegfeld Theater on Saturday afternoon as part of the New York Film Festival, is about Kim Sung-nam, a married 40-something painter in Seoul who flees Korea after he's caught smoking dope (his first time, natch) with a group of American tourists. In Paris, Kim crashes at a hostel for Korean expats, makes weepy cellphone calls to his abandoned wife, and otherwise hits the streets looking for action. Hong's gimmicky ending—not to mention the 144-minute runtime—takes the wind out the picture's sails, but Night and Day is nevertheless an entertaining update of the post-1960s cultural mood that Eustache so painfully captured. But enough of these imitations—will some kind DVD distributor please give us the original? —Benjamin Strong