Of the fifteen films competing in Torino, four remain especially memorable. Woo Ming Jin’s The Elephant and the Sea (Malaysia/ Holland), Lenny Abrahamson’s Garage (Ireland), Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl (USA) and last but not least Park Heung-sik’s The Railroad (Gyeong-ui seon) from South Korea. They remind you of the importance of a well written screenplay as the backbone of every film, no matter how personal, well acted and visually adventurous it turns out on the screen. In the case of Lars and the Real Girl — a comedy celebrating goodness with a lot of unexpected dark twists — the director owes a lot to screenplay writer Nancy Oliver. And Garage couldn’t have done without Mark O’Halloran’s story about the transformations in the Irish countryside through Josie, a simple and kind manager of a gas station. The lack of good scripts has been complained about many times, but deserves to be repeated. Sometimes it’s easier to actually see the weak and failing script, than to discover and understand the good one. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
At TFF you were to obviously lecture about the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in the Canadian Away From Her by Sarah Polley. You were overwhelmed by the chaotic try to smack everything about Germany into Neandertal by Jan-Christoph Glaser and Ingo Heb (Less is more, also in scripts!). You were filled with suspense the first half of Australian Noise by Matthew Saville, but with a thriller script without stamina, the rest resorted to clichés, seemingly just to bring it to an end. And so on.
As for Park Heung-sik and The Railroad the contrary. The railroad used to run from Seoul all the way to China. Since the partition of Korea it stops at Imjingang. This final and concrete sign of the partition between South and North, is however not the only theme of Park Heung-sik’s film, even though it in part has given the film its title. Taken from a perfectly balanced script — that remains invisible until the end — beautifully shot by cinematographer Bak Ki-ung, Park Heung-sik slowly unfolds the personal stories of two young Koreans and their brief encounter as they are forced together on a desolate night in an Imjingang covered in snow. He is a subway driver who takes great pride in his work under extreme working conditions; short hours of sleep between long shifts in special quarters beside his fellow drivers. She is a part time university teacher of German literature; her married professor’s other woman, constantly haunted by academic jealousies and personal uncertainties. Seemingly effortless the film follows the line of their separate lives, crosscutting also in time between the last trains to Imjingang — literally the end of the line — and what precedes it. You know, of course that they will meet eventually, she drunk, he in chock. And so they do in a motel room because there’s no way back to Seoul in the heavy snowfall. It becomes, not as some could expect a love meeting, but a night of painful revelations and growing tender solidarity. Beyond her love agony and his major tragedy as he accidentally kills a girl who suddenly steps off the platform in front of the train, Park Heung-sik tells his story as absorbingly and as rhythmic as the sound of the subway train against the rails, and the darkness that suddenly turns into bright light as the train pulls in at a station.
The partition of Korea — and once also of Germany — is not the only gaps in South Korean society that he movingly and unobtrusively touches upon through his story of this brief encounter (which, yes, in atmosphere reminds you of David Lean’s masterpiece). There’s the split between generations. Between the classes. Between the sexes. But at the center remain two anguished people who just happen to meet this once, and get their lives changed. Just as it should be.