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[Cannes ’21] ‘After Yang’ review: Human story with sci-fi touch dazzles

No something without nothing.

After Yang explores a future in which robotic children can be purchased by families as live-in babysitters and playmates. These technosapiens are such an accepted part of the household, when Yang (Justin H. Min) breaks down, Jake (Colin Farrell) realizes he has to go about repairing him instead of just getting a new one. This soon turns into a much more emotional journey than he thought it would be.

The idea of an android companion becoming an important part of the home is not a new one. Many films have exploited the oversentimental qualities of this plot to maximum tear welling effectiveness. After Yang presents another soul stirring script, but it never seems overdone. In fact, the film comes off as too calculated at times.

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Many times, the camerawork gives After Yang a cold inhuman feeling. Director Kogonada’s film is a meticulous one in which every single shot seems planned out to the tiniest detail. Often, the movie seems as robotic as Yang. This means the more human moments in the film are given deeper meaning. The sorrow and acceptance pour off the screen and affect the audience.

Bringing a human element to a sci-fi story can be difficult.

Farrell’s performance brings additional depth. The story is a contemplative one and Jake appropriately follows suit. The script is more concerned with telling its story through a bemused smile or a frustrated sigh. After Yang is a sci-fi tale only by the strictest definition of the term. As Farrell constantly proves, it is a human story more than anything else.

This will make After Yang a difficult watch for some. This is not a science fiction story about advanced technologies or a race against time. Instead, it is a methodical tale that invites audiences to watch a person reexamine their own life. Things can even be frustratingly vague at times. The movie offers up little way in the way of explanations and deals in revelations.

But the story never stops being interesting. Bringing a human element to a sci-fi story can be a difficult task. After Yang goes in the opposite direction. The touching story brings a touch of science fiction to the human condition. Along the way it brings an emotional quality that takes in its audience instead of taking advantage of them.

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