Berlinale 2023 Review: IN WATER Dazzles

Shin Seokho, Kim Seungyun, and Ha Seongguk star in director Hong Sang-soo's latest contemplation on creativity and art.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Berlinale 2023 Review: IN WATER Dazzles

The most prolific and fastest-working filmmaker in the world, Hong Sang-soo has become a staple of the largest German film gathering. The 2023 edition did not disappoint cinephile expectations,  as the South Korean one-man-film crew's latest project, In Water, has been welcomed on the Berlinale's screens.

Hong Sang-soo has become the very definition of an auteur in the truest sense, as he writes, produces, directs, edits, and composes a score for his films. He is the embodiment of bare-bones DIY filmmaking, with a distinct style exploring the intricate complexities of human relationships and artistic creation in the interplay between reality and fiction.

Signature long takes, naturalistic performances and a focus on character-driven storytelling are the basis of the 61-minute long In Water. However, Hong Sang-soo´s latest has a more melancholic feel than his previous works.


Hong Sang-soo's In Water is an introspective exploration of the creative process that unfolds over the course of three days. The film was shot in six days.

In a minimalist set-up, the director follows a former actor, Seongmo (Shin Seokho), who sets out to test his creativity by shooting a short film. He is joined by a budding actress (Kim Seungyun) and a boom operator (Ha Seongguk), who are supposed to help bring his vision to life.

In Water captures the essence of the creative process. At the forefront is painful rumination and confusing incertitude, not the fiery gestures of materializing something. As the young director searches for inspiration, a chance encounter ultimately begins to shape the film into a personal testimony.

While Hong's recurring theme is the examination of male-female relationships, often depicted through the lens of middle-aged men who are struggling to come to terms with their own shortcomings and inadequacies, In Water veers from this potentially autobiographical and metatextual direction. The young filmmaker protagonist decides to reconstruct a meeting with a woman collecting trash on a beach for his short film. And then he turns a conversation about voluntary trash collecting observed in a real life into a social commentary through his art.

Hong's films often feature a self-reflexive quality, with characters who are themselves artists or writers grappling with questions of creativity and artistic expression. Nevertheless, In Water seems to be a more personal and intimate story, a confession crowned with a meditative and disturbing final shot by the director.

The world premiere of the film was preceded by a rumor that the entire film was shot out of focus. The formalistic eccentricity does not prevent watching the film, as the image is only slightly out of focus, but lends the story an introspective aura. Speculations have been that this experimental decision reflects Hong Sang-soo's own progressive loss of eyesight, making the film an even more intimate experience.

Despite the experimental style, and even more profound embracing of the cinema of minimalism, In Water is more inviting to an audience outside the usual ranks of the South Korean auteur's cinephile following.

In contrast to Introduction, In Water offers new and curious viewers an opportunity to discover Hong Sang-soo's poetics and storytelling style effortlessly. And loyal fans may gain a deeper appreciation for the inspiring filmmaker.

Cinema Guild will be releasing In Water theatrically in North America later in 2023.

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
BerlinaleHa SeonggukHong Sang-sooIn WaterKim SeungyunMul-an-e-seoShin Seokho

More about In Water

Around the Internet