Writer-director So Yong Kim, who is based in my home town, Brooklyn, New York, made Treeless Mountain in South Korea, where she was born. A fictional film, but with only the thinnest shell of a story, it observes the behavior of its two main characters, sisters Jin, 6, and Bin, 4, rather than dragging the children who play them through a contrived plot. Thus it is able to give these characters, as well as Hee Yeon Kim and Song Hee Kim, the ones (possibly sisters) playing them, a documentary-like attention. Therefore, Kim’s film becomes a fictional documentary about two little girls. Anyone interested in observing two young children for 90 minutes should see this film, which is charming and quietly affecting. It ends open-endedly, and I would have gladly watched for another 90 minutes.
     The children’s mother, who is plainly exhausted, struggles to provide for her daughters on her own in Seoul. Leaving them both with his sister, the mother goes off to find Kang, the children’s father, hoping that they can become a family. The aunt tries hard but lacks the sympathy of the children’s mother, such as when one of the sisters wets her bed. Before departing, the mother tells Jin and Bin that each time they do as they are told Auntie will deposit a coin in their piggy bank and she herself will return once the bank is filled. Among the most touching moments are those where, the toy bank full (they have had to fill it themselves), the two children haunt the nearby bus stop, awaiting their mom’s arrival. A cell phone call made by a kind teenager determines that their mother’s home phone has been disconnected.
     Another kind soul is a neighbor, with whose boy the girls play and at whose table they eat. Eventually a letter arrives from their mother; things have not gone well with Kang, and she has no means of supporting the girls. Her sister-in-law will have to deposit them with their grandparents at the couple’s country farm. Again the girls are uprooted and abandoned, but their maternal grandmother (Boon Tak Park, a glowing nonprofessional) is warm and loving, and interested in showing her granddaughters a world with which they are unfamiliar.
     All this, then, outlines the plot. But, again, it is not what the film is about. It is the girls themselves, and later on the grandmother as well, who become behavorially rich subjects for the camera. We see the children’s anxiety, their quarrels and comradery, their discovery of new environments, their patience, impatience and resourcefulness. We also see the effortless patience of their grandma, the counterbalance to, and perhaps to some extent a consequence of, Grandpa’s cold, demanding nature.
     Best Film, Dubai.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s