2016 New York Film Festival: There’s an involuntary reaction that sometimes happens while watching certain foreign films. You start to wonder what the American remake would be like. “Yourself and Yours,” the latest from filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, is itself somewhat of a remake. This is a spin on Luis Buñuel‘s film “That Obscure Object of Desire,” with a modern twist. At times this feels like a high concept romantic comedy, though there’s a definite melancholy in the background as well. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this movie work, but it definitely does. The chord it strikes is unique enough that it overcomes a few small flaws. It isn’t quite something to rave about, but it’s unique and a definite quality outing here at the festival.
After a simple enough opening, the film gets a bit more complex. We start with Youngsoo (Kim Joo-hyuck) stressed about an illness in his family and questioning his relationship with girlfriend Minjung (Lee You-young). Speaking with his neighbor, he hears a rumor that Minjung has been out drinking with other men, and it festers in his head. He confronts her, leading to a messy breakup. This is where things take a turn, as other characters begin meeting Minjung, with results that you wouldn’t expect.
It starts off when a writer named Jaeyoung (Kwon Hae-hyo) sees Minjung at a coffee shop. He recognizes her, but she acts like a stranger, saying that’s not her name. It happens again at a bar, where a filmmaker named Sangwon (Yu Jun-sang) flirts with her with the same result. When Youngsoo finds her again after a search, no one can be truly sure what’s going on. Is Minjung playing a game? Does she have a twin? Is something magical or supernatural afoot? The film sort of answers it by the end, but much of it is up to your own interpretation.
With a small cast like this, you need to respond well to the actors on hand. Though none absolutely steal the screen, each do their part well. Best in show is, unsurprisingly, You-young, who has to really sell her mysterious character. She actually elevates the writing, letting it be less about the mystery and more about the experience. Joo-hyuck is solid as well, though his screen time is a bit limited. The aforementioned Hae-hyo and Jun-sang are fine, though not quite as memorable. Also on hand is Kim Eui-sung, among others, but no one else is really of any note.
Sang-soo is another distinctive, but polarizing, filmmaker. If there’s something holding “Yourself and Yours” back, it’s that Sang-soo seems to want you to solve the puzzle too much. The movie works best when you just go with it, getting on board with the vibe. Trying to figure out the Minjung question sort of defeats the purpose. That’s part of why a potential American remake could actually work. Something slightly simplified could hone in on the charm and lessen the mystery. In a way, it could be something in the vein of “Ruby Sparks.” This is still a good and unique film, but there’s echoes of something looser and more effective.
Overall, “Yourself and Yours” is just charming and different enough to work. If anything, it’s a decent entry point to those unfamiliar with his work. Again, it’s possible there could be an American remake of this if it winds up finding an actual audience in general release, but only time will tell. For now, it’s one of the better things I’ve seen at NYFF so far. “Yourself and Yours” has a mysterious allure to it. Just don’t think too much about the actual mystery and just enjoy the ride.
“Yourself and Yours” will screen at the New York Film Festival on Oct. 7.