Berlinale: Grass

WORLD PREMIERE

The owner of this cafe in a traditional district of Seoul is never shown. But we do discover he likes classical music. To the sound of Franz Schubert, Richard Wagner, or Jacques Offenbach, Hong Sangsoo offers another variation on the recurring motif of all his films – when happens when men and women meet.

A young woman accuses a young man of being responsible for her girlfriend’s suicide. A little later, she pays him a compliment. He stares at the floor, embarrassed. In the middle of the conversation, there’s a whip-pan on to the neighbouring table where a woman is sitting at her laptop. She overhears snatches of dialogue and develops them further. Is she the author of the subsequent relationship portraits in miniature whose stories and themes mirror one other? At times, she gets involved in the plot; at others, characters seek her advice. In this Hong Sangsoo film too, soju, Korean schnapps, is served at the table. At this moment, the camera pans out, capturing a young couple in traditional costume, taking photos of each other. Resignation or a new beginning? In the games that play out between the sexes, perhaps you must sometimes look back before you can move forward.

Cast:

Kim Minhee (Areum)
Jung Jinyoung (Kyungsoo)
Ki Joobong (Changsoo)
Seo Younghwa (Sunghwa)
Kim Saebyuk (Jiyoung)
Ahn Jaehong (Hongsoo)
Gong Minjeung (Mina)

Written and directed by Hong Sangsoo

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Berlinale: Old Love

Final screening: Saturday, February 24, 10pm. (Zoo Palast)

After a long time away, Yoon-hee returns home from Canada to look after her mother, who has Alzheimer’s. As she smokes a cigarette while waiting for the bus at the airport, she recognises the voice of her love from student days, Jung-soo. The two arrange to have dinner.

Airports are places of reunion and thus point to these two lives in transit, to the feeling of being a mere visitor in one’s own life. As the two walk through Seoul in winter, there is mainly silence, with only a few facts exchanged. Now in their late 40s, they were part of a theatre group when they met and the film succeeds in bringing their lives back to the stage without seeming static or theatrical. It is not grand words, but much more the lowering of eyelids, the nuances of emphasis, the open and reserved gazes, which betray the sense that their lives haven’t gone as they would have liked. Sometimes looking back into the past reinforces the melancholy, sometimes it creates clarity. And sometimes a film needs nothing more than an attentive camera and the director’s empathetic gaze.

Cast:

Yoo Jung-ah (Yoonhee)
Kim Tae-hoon (Jungsoo)
Kim Moonhee (Moonhee)

Written and directed by Park Kiyong

Berlinale: Last Child

Final screening: Saturday, February 24, 8pm (Colosseum 1).

A married couple who run a small interior decorating business have yet to get over the death of their son Eunchan, who drowned while trying to save a friend’s life. One day, the boy’s father watches as the surviving boy, Kihyun, is bullied by his friends. He intervenes and befriends the seemingly rootless boy, and gives him a job in his store.
This directorial debut looks at how grief works. As the three protagonists paint, put up wallpaper, and cook together, everyday tasks become a matter of course once again, and the three develop a shared rhythm; they could almost be mistaken for a family. But the closer the trio becomes, the guiltier Kihyun feels. Finally he confesses the truth about Eunchan: he was not the noble saviour everyone believes him to have been. Sadness curdles into a desire for revenge. But the film retains its calm, and its hugely focused visual compositions provide space for all kinds of emotional outbursts. The provincial setting, precisely drawn, becomes a stage where questions of vengeance and atonement are played out.

Cast:

Choi Moo-seong (Sungcheol)
Kim Yeo-jin (Misook)
Seong Yu-bin (Kihyun)

Written and directed by Shin Dong-seok

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Tasty Korean cuisine

In her restaurant ‘Kimchi Princess’, Young-Mi Snowden-Park serves authentic Korean dishes. A particularly popular one is Bibimbap, made with mixed rice, vegetables and marinated beef.

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