It opens quietly, as a fashionably dressed woman roams through the famed Miller House—designed by Eero Saarinen, in Columbus, Indiana, calling out for her companion. The camera pans across the mid-century home’s breathtaking interiors: the gorgeous furniture; floor-to-ceiling bookcases in arrayed in glass, wood and color; the sunken couch; the table with a fountain in its middle that’s repeated in a similar table outdoors; the steel armature holding up the glass walls.
Similarly, the new film Columbus ends in the Miller House, as our protagonists—a young woman whose passion for architecture is matched only by her care for her meth-addicted mother, and a North Korean man who has come to Columbus to attend to his dying father, who is the companion searched for in the first scene—contemplate the state of their lives. She’s in the blue and white kitchen, where colorful glassware and a blue tile wall convey a sense of possibility. He’s in the gardens designed by Dan Kiley, where order rules supreme.
Directed by Kogonoda, a visual artist and video essayist turned filmmaker, Columbus was a critically acclaimed breakout at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is playing through Thursday, September 7, at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis. Smart, profound, and unflinching, the film examines a period of pivotal change in the lives of Cassandra/Casey and Jin through the lens of the city’s mid-century architecture, the opulent inn where Jin stays, and Casey and her mom’s modest home. Quite literally, in fact.
In many of the scenes, the action is off camera while the lens is fixed firmly on a meticulously designed landscape, the hallway in Casey’s home, the bathroom in Jin’s lodgings, the glassware in the Miller House, the sculpted ceiling of Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church. The viewer’s attention is focused on space and place, detail and materiality, form and symbolism as the protagonists’ pasts, and present dilemmas, are slowly revealed. The narratives layer. The acting is quietly efficient. The emotions resonant. And the architecture? Revelatory. Columbus, the film, is one to be savored, contemplated, and watched again. Columbus, the city, is one to be visited, preserved, and cherished.