The architectures of “Beef”, a quiet beige rage in the format of a TV series
Lee Sung Jin's Netflix production is a story with attention to every detail: concrete and wood, Japandi style, a riot of radical and claustrophobic sobriety. Alvar Aalto teaches
If it is not (always) true that a book is judged by its cover, a TV series is judged – also – by its opening credits. And those of "Beef", ten episodes on Netflix, make it clear right away that we are dealing with a story with attention to every detail. So let's savor the ten paintings painted by David Choe (also co-star actor in the series) and the same number of quotes that give the title to the episodes and which belong to writers and playwrights. But this is just the visual appetizer of what Beef will show himself capable of doing.
Step back: a wealthy Chinese businesswoman named Amy (Ali Wong) rams a Korean bricklayer with his white SUV – Danny (Steve Yeun) – at the exit of a department store. A quarrel ensues, a subsequent car chase and an escalation of resentment between the two who see an uncontrollable and endless mutual anger mount. A clash between two opposing personalities but also between two worlds, as the houses that Amy and Danny occupy clearly remind us. If Danny lives in a sort of Californian version of a tenement house – dilapidated, with peeling interior walls and carpets with connotative patches of dirt – Amy's home in Calabasas, which she shares with her sculptor husband (the family wears trousers she) and her little daughter, tells a completely different story.
The villa, in perfect Japandi style (crasis between Japanese and Scandinavian taste, very fashionable chic) is a riot of radical and at the same time claustrophobic sobriety. Cement and wood dominate, colors in shades of beige, yellow and brick, wooden slats used as walls and diaphragm between spaces (Alvar Aalto docet), internal gardens, clerestory and projecting windows. Everything contributes to create a suspended and muffled atmosphere that perfectly conveys the sense of apparent calm in which the house is immersed, as the bearer of a repressed and subterranean anger. A few but carefully chosen design pieces (among others, a fine sofa in shades of rust and Tamago chairs) stand out between the living room and the kitchen, curved and enveloping lines are rare while sharp edges and cuts predominate (“More curves! Humanize this space!” exhorts Fumi, Amy's very strict mother-in-law).
Same fate for the bathroom of the house, "liquid" theater of the first revenge implemented by Danny: shiny, thin tiles laid vertically and once again a skylight that lets the light filter in as if you were at the bottom of a well . But all of this looks small compared to the house-museum of Amy's boss, Jordan. In reality it is a building (the House of Books) on the Brandeis-Bardin campus of the American Jewish University in Brandeis, California. An imposing brutalist-style structure designed in the early seventies, massive and characterized by a centripetal thrust of the volumes, granite and intimidating like the landlady. Here too the set designer Grace Yun he modeled the spaces along the lines of the characters who move within them. "I am inhabited by a cry" reads the title of an episode, quoting Sylvia Plath. Above all, Beef's architecture tells of this.