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In Focus: The Russian Novel

by Pierce Conran   01.17.2013
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Directed by SHIN Yeon-shick 
Starring KIM In-soo, KYEONG Seung-hwan, KIM Jeong-seok, LEE Jae-hye, LEE Kyong-mee, LEE Yoo-mee, LEE Bit-na, CHEONG Hoon-hee
Release Date n/a

In 2010, director SHIN Yeon-shick embarked on a trilogy examining middle-aged romance with the sweet and lyrical The Fair Love, a film about a 50-year-old man’s (AHN Sung-ki) burgeoning romance with a much younger woman (LEE Ha-na). During last October’s 17th Busan International Film Festival, SHIN unveiled the second installment of his trilogy, one that features far greater ambition and hints at even greater things to come.
 
Split into two sections, The Russian Novel begins 27 years in the past as it introduces us to a 27-year-old writer. The young scribe, from a troubled background, lacking in education and doubtful of his skills, embarks on a mission to become a great writer. Ambling through different cliques and falling in with various women, he moodily sets about improving his craft. However, before he is afforded a chance to make his mark, he is poisoned and falls into a coma. He wakes up in the present to discover that he is now a famous writer but before long he discovers that the masterpiece he is credited with may have been written by someone else.
 
As its title suggests, SHIN’s new film is long, teeming with characters and engorged with existential despair. The structure of the narrative, the temperament of its protagonists and the philosophical nature of the dialogue also bring to mind the great works of classic Russian writers such as Dostoyesvky and Lermontov. Though literary as the film is, it is also very cinematic. The sepia tones of its first half evoke a bygone era while throughout, the lush framing, the still camerawork and the quiet but evocative soundtrack go hand-in-hand with the contemplative mood of the film. This tone complements the film’s ruminations on the nature of art, recognition and fame, which are nestled within its complex narrative and bounced around its myriad of characters.
 
So enthusiastic was the film’s reception during the Busan International Film Festival that the Director’s Guild of Korea saw fit to award SHIN its Best Director prize, which he shared with Jiseul‘s O Muel. SHIN is currently hard at work filming his next project Actor Is an Actor, which is being produced by KIM Ki-duk but, in the meantime, The Russian Novel will have its international premiere at the 42nd edition of the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

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