Frédérique Benoît, aka Freddie, is a personality who holds everybody at arm’s size, together with the viewers. She’s unreasonably self-impressed, condescending and sometimes flat-out merciless. There are indicators of honest looking out amid all of the appearing out, however each step ahead appears to be adopted by a number of slides again. That the story of somebody so off-putting climaxes in a second as profound and shifting because the penultimate scene of Return to Seoul speaks to the delicate energy of writer-director Davy Chou’s storytelling and the portrayal by Park Ji-Min, a visible artist making a powerful impression in her first display function.
Chou’s two earlier feature-length movies are the Cambodia-set documentary Golden Slumbers and the narrative function Diamond Island, which obtained the SACD Prize in Cannes’ Critics’ Week in 2016. Picked up Sony Footage Classics on the eve of the Cannes pageant, Return to Seoul will take this proficient helmer and his keen-edged artwork home sensibility to a wider viewers. Laborious-to-like feminine characters are a great factor, and the film’s culturally particular story of being uprooted and transplanted has common resonance.
Return to Seoul
The Backside Line
Typically exasperating, however a visit effectively value taking.
Tracing an eight-year interval in Freddie’s life, starting when she’s 25, the movie is bookended by scenes of her checking right into a resort — an apt juncture for the story of a soul’s itinerant path, formed by serendipity and by function. When Freddie arrives at a small inn in Seoul, realizing not a phrase of Korean, it’s the results of a spontaneous airport resolution after her deliberate journey to Tokyo, a favourite trip spot, is rendered unattainable by a storm. “I simply wanted to go someplace,” she’ll later clarify, defensively, to her adoptive mom in France (Régine Vial Goldberg), who strikes a guilt-tripping proprietary pose, not happy that Freddie’s first go to to her native nation doesn’t embody maman et papa.
Freddie has no genealogical itch to scratch, however quickly sufficient the thought of in search of her organic mother and father has taken maintain, planted by resort clerk Tena (Guka Han) and Dongwan (Son Seung-Beom), each of whom embrace the prospect to talk French along with her over dinner. They inform her in regards to the company that has dealt with most of South Korea’s worldwide adoptions for many years, and the place her data is likely to be discovered. Freddie absorbs the enormity of this chance with a shocked silence. All she possesses of Korea is a photograph of herself as an toddler with a lady she assumes is her mom.
No sooner has a world of what-ifs opened earlier than her than she makes herself busy shoving it away, pulling strangers on the restaurant right into a soju-fueled bash for 20-somethings. Blasting via native guidelines of decorum, Freddie’s exuberance is a spark of vitality. However there’s additionally a nagging sense that her life-of-the-party theatrics is a protecting shell.
Nonetheless, she follows up on her new buddies’ tip. After an extended night time of consuming and a random bed room romp with one of many restaurant-goers (Kim Dong-Seok), who will quickly sufficient be confronted by her malevolence, Freddie heads to the adoption middle. On this go to and later ones, her measured however loaded exchanges with company workers — splendidly underplayed by Lee Myung-Hee Chung and Kim Joo-Yeon — are extraordinary demonstrations of process as a tight-fitting lid on just-beneath-the-boil feelings. Freddie learns her beginning title, Yeon-Hee (in a pleasant little bit of irony, it means docile and joyful), and in brief order she’s in contact along with her father, who lives a few hours away, in Gunsan.
He’s performed by Oh Kwang-Rok, who will likely be acquainted to worldwide audiences from his supporting roles in Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. In distinction with Freddie’s wariness, her father wears his coronary heart on his sleeve. After their preliminary assembly, which additionally consists of Freddie’s aunt (Kim Solar-Younger, exceptionally good), grandmother (Hur Ouk-Sook) and half-siblings, he begins texting Freddie/Yeon-Hee in any respect hours of the night time, after alcohol will get the higher of him. Translation software program makes this attainable; Korean is the one language he speaks. Throughout in-person get-togethers, translating duties go both to Freddie’s cosmopolitan aunt, who speaks English, or to francophone Tena — who all the time softens Freddie’s chilly, dismissive remarks.
“Freely impressed” by the expertise of an adopted buddy of Chou’s — and knowledgeable by his personal sense of dislocation/reconnection as somebody who was born in France to Cambodian mother and father and didn’t go to Cambodia till he was 25 — Return to Seoul initially bore the English-language title All of the Folks I’ll By no means Be. That’s a nod to the life-shaping choices that had been made for Freddie earlier than she might stroll, nevertheless it additionally displays the gaps between the jagged items of her life that kind the film. Taking three jumps throughout the years after the lengthy first part that types the movie’s first hour, this can be a story constructed on ellipses, the modifying by Dounia Sichov exact and delicate. No matter harm and therapeutic happen within the intervening years are for us to kind out, with Park’s potent shape-shifting efficiency offering the clues.
Two years after Freddie’s spur-of-the-moment journey to Seoul, she’s residing there, a creature of the night time in darkish lipstick with an artist boyfriend (Lim Cheol-Hyun), a number of buddies within the underground membership scene, a job within the vaguely predatory subject of “worldwide consulting” and intercourse hookups with older males like André (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), a French businessman. He units her on the trail to a brand new incarnation, revealed after the story’s subsequent leap, into pandemic instances. Her tough edges smoothed to a effective, ladylike polish, Freddie is now a glamorous mover and shaker in — the place else? — the military-industrial complicated. It’s work that her new, well mannered French boyfriend (Yoann Zimmer) describes by placing the shiniest of fairy story glosses on it. However one other abrupt switcheroo is in retailer.
Freddie’s heartlessness will be startling and exasperating, nonetheless comprehensible it’s that somebody so reduce off from her emotions opts to be powerful. At instances Chou depends on well-worn film tropes just like the Girl Dancing Alone scene, apparently de rigueur in sure films about sure girls, and virtually all the time lifted above cliché by the efficiency. And so it’s right here, with Park bringing Freddie’s pugilistic chew to the sequence alongside along with her muddled yearnings.
Well reflecting the best way Freddie straddles cultures as she figures out who she is, Jérémie Arcache and Christophe Musset contribute a wealthy and versatile music rating. Thomas Favel’s unobtrusive lensing effortlessly follows the primary character’s each zig and zag, whether or not she’s commanding the highlight within the thick gloom of a bar or observing the pale watercolor palette of a seaside city.
Chou has drawn affecting performances from everybody in his excellent solid, with a number of of them referred to as upon to convey delicate modifications over the story’s timeline. Freddie’s modifications are hanging and dramatic, not delicate, however they’re portrayed with a lived-in specificity by Park. And sometimes with out uttering a phrase of dialogue, as in Freddie’s last go to to the adoption company, when her face is a lot softer and extra open and weak than when she first arrived.
The closing sequence, which is ready in Romania (a element revealed within the closing credit, not the movie itself), revolves round Freddie at 33 and, not coincidentally, a Bach cantata invoking Christ. Chou is hardly holding up his feisty hero as a martyr or savior. Return to Seoul just isn’t about excuses or hosannas. It’s about solo journeys, heavy baggage and welcoming strangers — the stuff of life.