Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review: Treeless Mountain (2009): 6/10

Treeless Mountain (2009): 6/10

This South Korean film about two sisters who have to learn to adapt to a new life is affecting but ultimately unsubstantial. 6 year old Jin and her sister 3 year old Bin live a comfortable and pleasant enough life with their mother.

Their mother goes off to try to deal with their father in a clearly complicated situation which the audience is kept out of the loop on. She brings them to their aunts place, the mothers' sister-in-law. She clearly cares for her children but finds herself in a situation that cannot be dealt with while her children are with her. The aunt is not depicted as a bad person by any means but is (nicely) shown as someone who is just as confused about how to deal with this new dynamic as the children are. She is nice to them overall but in many moments and scenes fails to display the patient understanding that is neccesary in dealing with the children and their ways of coping with the situation.

While the mother is not depicted as a bad person in the film (nobody is), she does something that very much frustrated me. Before she leaves she gives Jin and Bin a piggy bank and tells them that everytime they obey their aunt, the aunt will give them a coin and when the bank is filled, the mother will come back. Why would she say this to her kid? This was a painfully immature move on her part in that she apparently assumes that a 6 year old will not take this literally. So of course a huge chunk of the film is Jin and Bin trying to catch, cook and sell grasshoppers in an effort to fill up the bank which they do. I am just not sure why she would say this to her children. It goes beyond false hope.

The film rests on the performances of the children who not only carry the film but are the film. We are not really shown anyone else's perspctive and so the leads most importantly Jin must be emotionally resonant which she very much is. Hee-Yeon Kim is so beautiful and surprisingly moving in this film. We can see her trying to understand what is going on in her head and we can also see the emotions at work within her. Song-hee Kim as Bin is a nice contrast and companion for Jin but since she is 3 years old it is hard to comment on any sort of intentional performance going on. I can only say that she is filmed so that we can she that she is effected as well.

The film, which is all observational in tone) is nicely shot with a couple of outstanding shots which would constitute a favorite shots of the year list if only. While the film is interesting, moving and is carried well by the leads, ultimately it never really crosses into great territory. It is just a pretty good film. So in the end, its only flaw is that it is too mild to really cross the line into being great.

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