Night and Day’s title evokes a sense of duality that permeates director Hong Sang-soo’s (Tale of Cinema,Woman on the Beach) latest, achingly affecting portrait of confused modern masculinity. In Paris to avoid arrest for smoking pot with an American exchange student, artist Sung-nam (Kim Youngho) finds himself just as adrift as the story implies he was at home, unable to commit to his painting and conflicted and confused when it comes to love. As in Hong’s prior work, his protagonist is defined by dithering, frequent drunkeness, and inconsistent behavior, Sung-nam vacillating between lacking in self-confidence and flashing an egotistic streak as he becomes enmeshed in a love triangle with a nondescript woman and her art school plagiarist flatmate. Broken up by title cards that denote the date, the relaxed plot involves Sung-nam’s relationship with a host of Korean expats in the City of Lights, with whom he casually falls in and out of favor and love, his relationships fraught with indecision and accompanied by his diary-like (narrated) thoughts on France, marriage and sex. In search of self, he seeks answers in adultery, the Bible – most hilariously conveyed during a sequence in which he halts a romantic rendezvous with blather about righteously controlling base urges – and deception, with the line between truth and lies, reality and dreams, soon becoming blurred. The beauty of Night and Day is that it doesn’t attempt to reconcile these or any of Sung-nam’s other contradictions, crafting a portrait that’s at once highly specific and yet effortlessly attuned to life’s inherent disorder. Even when his narrative introduces a bit of symbolism (a baby bird in an airport terminal, Sung-nam’s arm-wrestling with a North Korean), the mood remains relaxed and artless, the film progressing with an engrossing spontaneity that’s epitomized by magnificently understated direction which – employing natural lighting, and navigating literal and emotional space via attentive pans and zooms – makes it seem as if the camera’s gaze is mirroring that of a human’s eye.
(2008 New York Film Festival)