A grieving husband’s obsessive search to uncover the truth behind a note left by his comatose wife leads to a hypnotically fascinating mystery in Lee Jin-woo’s tyro feature, “Sundays in August.” Bravura touches and a disciplined mise en scene suggest the entry of a talent capable of balancing the mystical and the quotidian. Despite appearances at Pusan and Buenos Aires, the pic has been unfairly ignored on the fest circuit, dimming its commercial future.
Incredible opening shot, with camera turning gradually 180 degrees, turns out to the p.o.v. of a driver’s car crashing and flipping over on a rural road. Husband Ho-sang (Im Hyeong-guk) revives in the hospital, and sees wife Min-jeong in a coma. Melodrama is bypassed in favor of Ho-sang’s concern for a brief note left by Min-jeong in her copy of novel “Sundays in August.” The scribble hints at a love affair she may have carried on in the past.
Im’s steady, poker-faced perf never indicates Ho-sang might be losing his mind as he becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the man in Min-jeong’s note. He travels to a remote mountain lodge where the supposed lovers may have met, and Min-jeong’s doctor Si-nae (Yang Eun-yong) gets in on the act, searching for a copy of the novel itself with help from curious bookseller So-kook (Oh Jeong-se).
Problem is that the tome is out of print, furthering the film’s sense of a reality that’s just out of reach. Even Min-jeong’s condition is up for question, as it appears she rises out of bed one night. In a daring gambit, Lee allows her core story to drift off in the direction of Si-nae, whose own unfulfilled life begins to take center screen.
Cast is thoroughly in tune with Lee’s calm approach, which stresses long silences, pregnant pauses and a portentous mood where just about anything can happen. Camerawork could hardly be more precise, but may prove too chilly for some tastes. Tech credits for this HD vid-shot pic are exceptional.