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John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson tour buildings and emotions in the quietly captivating ‘Columbus’

In one of the many conversations that animate “Columbus,” a serenely intelligent first feature from the Korean American writer-director Kogonada, a part-time librarian named Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) and her co-worker Gabriel (Rory Culkin) discuss a tricky double standard. As Gabriel notes, someone who loves video games but finds books boring is criticized for having a short attention span, while someone with the opposite inclination is praised for having a long one. “It’s not a matter of attention span, but of interest,” he says. “Are we losing interest in things that matter?”

Mercifully, he does not go on to extol the importance of gentle, gorgeously contemplative independent films like this one, though by that point “Columbus” has already made the case in much more delicate and persuasive terms. With its quotidian rhythms, gossamer-thin story and steady accumulation of visual wonders, the movie may indeed test the limits of your attention span at times, but always in the interests of expanding your vision and clarifying your perceptions. If you find yourself losing interest, you have only yourself to blame.

The story follows two lonely, lovely young strangers, Casey and Jin (John Cho), who strike up a friendship over several days spent walking and talking their way around Columbus, Ind. That city has attracted renewed publicity over the past year as the hometown of Vice President Mike Pence, but it intrigues Kogonada and his characters for reasons that are more aesthetic than political.

Columbus has long been celebrated as an improbable enclave of Midwestern modernism, a public showcase for the splendors of Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and other leading architects. The city’s wondrous, slightly incongruous design holds a particular fascination for Casey, a recent high-school graduate who lives with her mother (Michelle Forbes), a recovering drug addict. Jin, a book translator in his mid-30s who lives in Seoul, has flown in to visit his sick father (Joseph Anthony Foronda), a renowned architecture scholar who suddenly collapsed while touring the city.