Saturday, February 16, 2019

Notes on Beol-sae (House of Hummingbird) by Kim Bo-ra, Republic Korea: 2018, Berlin Filmfestival2019 VIII.-Generation14plus

Beol-sae looks at the first sight like a modern shomingeki-film and at the same time like a Korean feminist pendant to Hou Hsiao Hsien´s autobiographical masterpiece of modern Asian cinema Tong Nien wang shi (A Time to live and a Time to die). Premiered and awarded last year at the festival of Pusan/Korea Beol-sae was one of the highlights I have seen this year at the generation-section of the Berlin film festival which surprised me me in the last years with an impressive diversity of cinematic forms.
In her first long feature, Kim Bo-ra introduces herself as a unique stylist for the future of cinema.

The film takes place during some months in Seoul in the year 1994. Its narration evolves around the young teenage girl Eunhee. Consequently, the narration is built of every day episodes, at first seemingly incidental later they seemed like intensified by themselves more and more in an almost uncanny way. Eunhee, her friends, brother, sister and parents are common people we know from so much films by Ozu or Naruse. The (living) space, in this case closed rooms plays an important role: kitchen, living room, bed room, the class room of the school or the hospital where Eunhee has to admit herself during the middle of the film. The narration is fragmented through these small every day situations, quarrels with parents, friends or the brother, the first kiss.
The best example for this very unorthodox narrative style is a kind of love story
As the film proceeds, Eunhee develops feelings for the teacher of the calligraphy school. At first an optional narrative sub story like a hint, later in retrospect it appears as one of the crucial moments in this film.

The film is about the history of the intimate life and social environment of Eunhee but punctuated with four drastic events. First of all, her uncle, an alcoholic passes away, a tragedy which affects the family but which won´t be recorded in any history book. Later there is a hint to the football championship in the USA and the death of a leader in North Korea. These are signs of history where the film is embedded. Another tragic event, the collapse of a big bridge causes many lives, including a person close to Eunhee. This is the moment when global history directly affects the private sphere of the protagonists. The episodic narration turns into a huge gravitation field

Kim Bo-ra´s film is an exquisite meditation about the relationship between history and human identities and it shows a maturity of an old master which one can´t usually expect in a first long feature film.

In the last 30 years and especially in Asian cinema, some directors cultivated long shots without any cut and very close to André Bazin´s use of the term . Two different names come to my mind. First of all, the Taiwanese Hou Hsiao Hsien. His extreme long shots appear to me as real time blocs among the film. Another Taiwanese, Tsai Ming-liang uses long shots in a more artificial way. In his sequences time appears as expanded like the set is much to near an event horizon of a Black hole. Kim Bo-ra works here with another variation more close to Hou Hsiao Hsien but with a totally different accent. In some of her long shots, when even the camera is unmoved (or hardly moved) the movement of the protagonists sometimes pauses in almost frozen gestures. The cinematic movement is suspended for a while. These moments also suspend the narration for a moment. They suspend the cinematic illusion of space, time and movement and what we call world as it appears on the screen.
In other moments, actions of violence: Eunhee is beaten by her brother, the father shows sign of outrage in his aggressive behavior. There is a moment when Eunhee is alone in her room, totally enraged. Her movements appear nearly like an explosion in this mostly quiet film. It seems she rebels against the restrictions forced on her by the very specific Korean society of the 1990s, by all representatives of authority (teacher, parents, the elder brother) but also by the limitations of the frame of the screen which appears as the visualization of all restrictions of this world she is exposed to.

Even though this film is about young people, even though this film is focusing on urban every day life, there is a current underneath which evokes in me this undefinable taste of transientness. When the film ends it leaves on me the impression of a memory like sculptured for the eternity while we whom this memory is shared with are confronted with the own mortality.
In 138 minutes a whole human life is sensible. When the film is over , I felt this exhausting euphoria between admiration and being heartbroken, between being happy to have seen such a great film but with the eyes full of tears. I felt such a thing this year only with two other films, Driveways by Andrew Ahn and Bulbul can sing by Rima Das.
Like these films, Beol-sae does not just leaves the impression of a film I just saw. It is a film I lived with, breathed with and dwelt in for a while.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Beol-sae won the Grand Prix of the Jury of Generation 14plus, Bulbul can sing, my other darling from this festival by Rima Das won a special mention.

17.February, 16.00, Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

1 comment:

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