Credit Cinema Guild
The South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo is both prolific and consistent. His movies tend to feature chronological displacement, romantic disaffection, startling zooms and the consumption of many bottles of soju. “On the Beach at Night Alone,” one of three features directed by Mr. Hong presented at festivals this year, is split into two parts — the first set in Hamburg, Germany, the second in the South Korean seaside city of Gangneung — and includes an extended, awkward, zoom-punctuated scene of drunken recrimination.
The focus of that scene, and of every other in the film, is Kim Min-hee, who has worked frequently with Mr. Hong, often playing a young woman involved, at least potentially, with a man who is sometimes a filmmaker. In March, following a great deal of rumor and scandal in the Korean news media, Mr. Hong and Ms. Kim admitted to their own affair, which contributed to the end of Mr. Hong’s marriage. “On the Beach at Night Alone” has been seen as a confession and an explanation of their affair, an act of self-revelation on the part of both the director and the star.
Trailer: ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’
Even without that layer of tabloid fascination — which may resonate with recent developments in Hollywood and elsewhere — “On the Beach” feels more raw and personal than some of Mr. Hong’s other work. His explorations of the miscommunications between men and women can turn into meditations, at times acute, at times coy, on the nature of cinema and the reliability of narrative. This film feels less like the playing out of a conceit (in the manner of another 2017 feature “The Day After”) than the attempt to work out a problem.
The problem for Young-hee (Ms. Kim) is how to process a painful, ambiguous experience, something that happened in the gap between the film’s sections. In the first, she is in Germany with an older, female friend (Seo Young-hwa), wandering through wintry parks, visiting acquaintances and talking about and around the scandalous love affair back home in Korea. In spite of this companionship, loneliness hovers around Young-hee like the North Sea mist, and she winds up literally fulfilling the film’s title.
Back home, her mood is less melancholy and more confrontational. She is sarcastic with old friends and ferocious when drunk, pushing away sympathy with one hand and inviting it with the other. The relationship between the two halves of the film, like every other relationship in it, remains somewhat enigmatic. What the audience experiences as before and after could be two versions of the same story. Or one could be a fantasy contained within the other, though it might be hard to say which is which.
But in spite of this indeterminacy, “On the Beach at Night Alone” is not difficult. Its characters are subject to recognizable emotions that they struggle to express clearly and transparently, helped along by a musical soundtrack heavy with Schubert and by the close attention of Mr. Hong’s camera. Ms. Kim is simultaneously an ordinary woman and a melodramatic heroine, her performance made more layered and intriguing by the intimation that she may be playing herself.