"Don't Look Back": Groping with Uncertainties By Lena Adam

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Lena Murgu-Adam

Don’t Look Back (Nae-chungchun-aegae-Goham, a South Korean/Japanese co-production) is a strikingly mature first feature by 35-year old Kim Young-Nam who, in addition to directing a number of shorts and documentaries, was assistant director on Hong Sangsoo’s Woman is the Future of Man.

Using a stylish, modern cinematic vocabulary, the film follows three young people who must cope with the hardships and destabilising encounters of their romantic, emotional and social existences, drawing on their common determination to live as they see fit, free of the yoke of conventional social values.

A student with a passion for dance sees her contrite father reappear after years of absence and silence. Confronted with contradictory feelings during this unexpected meeting, the young woman cannot decide whether to reject him or give her affection to this man who now wants no doubt too late to find a place in her life.

Humour and pathos characterise the tale of a telephone repairman who uses his job to eavesdrop on private conversations from a telephone pole. One evening he falls in love with a woman who is going through a difficult break-up and whom he can see through a window. Bashful and embarrassed, he takes his courage in hand, rings at her door and declares his love as best he can.

The third protagonist is a soldier in his thirties, who comes home on leave only to realise that his wife’s affections have cooled and that she is seeing another man. Confused, desirous to save his marriage yet lacking the willpower to do anything, he meets a young woman who kindles a new romantic passion in him.

In this insightful triptych, the filmmaker gives us a group portrait of ordinary individuals, rather typical of the younger generation everywhere, wandering about with their mal de vivre in search of desire, emotional stability, motivations that can extract them from their apathy, yet indisposed by a bewildering inability to communicate or love.

Displaying a subtle aesthetic sense characterised by a remarkable skill in framing, a spare use of dialogue and effects, and the use of symbolic leitmotifs railway tracks leading nowhere, Kim Young-Nam delivers an intimate and lucid fresco close to our human condition.

Kim Young-Nam suggests the varying courses of his characters with impressionistic touches, observing the way they listen, speak and walk, as in the shots of the young woman wandering aimlessly along railroad tracks, bridges and streets, always perched on her high heels, always ready for an encounter.

The actors embody their roles with sincerity and naturalness, giving flavour to these faltering yet highly appealing personalities. Like his three protagonists, the director adopts an unhurried, perhaps too unhurried, rhythm to mirror their groping toward self-fulfilment.