2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – COLUMBUS
The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival did very well to program COLUMBUS as part of its American Independents program. With its quiet thoughtfulness, its assured filmmaking, and the utilization of two terrific acting talents COLUMBUS makes quite an impression.
COLUMBUS, set in the modernist architecture mecca of Columbus, Indiana, follows two strangers, John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, as they try to make sense of where they’re going as their lives are on pause due to complications with their parents. John Cho comes to the town after his father, an eminent architecture scholar, suffers a fall and submerges into a coma with an indefinite outcome. Haley Lu Richardson is a promising student with a keen interest in architecture, who has passed up going to college to help her mother deal with a recovery from addiction. By chance they meet and form a friendship as they walk among this great modernist architecture and talk about what it all means. It’s a setup reminiscent of Richard Linklater.
COLUMBUS is a first time feature from Kogonada, who’s done mostly video essays prior, and it proves to be an auspicious one. Kogonada can express a mood, a feeling, or an idea simply through camera placement and editing. COLUMBUS is impeccably shot and carefully framed, but it rarely feels like pretentiousness, except perhaps in one scene which is shot in the reflection of mirrors, as much as it feels like simply the best way to tell the story. Two strangers having a conversation walking on opposite sides of a fence which reaches a resolution when they meet at an opening in the fence, is simply good visual storytelling. And there is plenty of that in the film.
What’s more, COLUMBUS is a good example of American independent film that really feels like it has a purpose in a venue like the Milwaukee Film Festival. COLUMBUS manages to be centered in the American midwest in a place that’s both very photogenic and underused by the traditional Hollywood system. Hollywood will spend hundreds of millions on films that lack the architectural features of places like Columbus, Indiana with it’s extensive collection of modernist architecture. Using underutilized talents is one of the bywords of COLUMBUS as John Cho is finally given a lead role worthy of his talents and the up and coming Haley Lu Richardson gets a lead role which demonstrates that she has what it takes to be a star.
COLUMBUS is as assured of a first feature as you could hope to see. It’s smart, it’s exceptionally well shot, and it has charismatic, talented leads. It doesn’t quite resolve in a completely satisfying manner, one of the stories really is unresolved, and that lack of completion is felt in the films final moments and in reflection. Still, that leaves it as merely a pretty terrific film, instead of a bona fide masterpiece. You’ll not find many better films at this year’s film festival.
COLUMBUS will be showing twice more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The next screening is Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 1 pm at the Downer Theatre followed by a final screening on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 1:30 pm at the Downer Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.