Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Treeless Mountain: review

Why is it that a backwater place like Hull gets films such as beautiful as  
TREELESS MOUNTAIN so late? Why did take so long for it to come to Britain, when it was shown in the USA a year ago? Questions, questions, questions...

Treeless Mountain. Piggy bank. Empty. Mother gone. Piggy bank full. Mother supposed to come back. Piggy bank drops an eye. Omen. Piggy bank full. Mother did not return. No more piggy bank. Elderly grand parents' farm: two little sisters singing "Grasshopper... grasshopper..." as the credits roll down.

Korean-American So Yong Kim's second feature film is a quiet and lingering study of two little sisters learning to cope with disappointment and enjoy their young lives as they are shifted from relative to relative as their single mother is no longer capable of sustaining them, after being evicted from a soulless tenement building. She disappears in search of her estranged husband, we do not see her any more during the rest of the film

Several critics have dismissed Treeless Mountain as being pretty but empty, even boring, as nothing seems to happen. How  wrong they are! No car chases or shoots out are in sight, so what? Déjà vu. At times the camera lingers on the face of one of the girls for what seems too long, then there is a subtle change in her expression, in her mood, little elements of dramatic tension that keeps the linear story rolling... The story is told from the point of view of the girls, the actions rolls on their faces, the camera follows them. The adults are mostly disappointing, not cruel or purposely neglectful, but incapable of seeing them as who they are. The cinematography brilliantly conveys a world view from their point of view, and not that of the adults. Panoramic scenes are present, but always as if they were seen by a child.

The enigmatic title is, well, an enigma. I do not pretend to know why it was called Treeless Mountain, at least not beyond saying that a soulless life is like a treeless mountain.

If anything, this film is almost Zen in its cinematic minimalism, its simplicity, in  its ability to convey the gradual transformation of the "I want" girls to "I have" girls (the older one offers to buy her grandma new shoes from their piggy bank, in spite that they needed winter shoes themselves).

Treeless Mountain -  Dir. So Yong Kim South Korea 2009 89 mins 
Starring Hee Yeon Kim & Song Hee Kim

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