Busan International Film Festival, Oct 10, 2022

It rained yesterday off and on but never heavily, so while I carried around my umbrella, I never used it. Last night I had drinks with the director Shin Suwon and her producer. Though none of her films are being shown on the official program this year, some are being screened at side events. I was surprised to learn that she released a movie several years ago about whether or not to have children. I didn’t even know about it, probably because it was never shown in Japan and, I guess, was not featured at BIFF. She also told me that one of her older films, Light of the Youth, was based on the same true story that July Jang’s Next Sohee was based on, but, in deference to the family of the person who committed suicide, she changed a lot of the particulars. Jang didn’t. And, apparently, another director is planning to make their own movie about this incident, so that will make 3 films about the same subject. 

She also asked for recommendations and I said she would probably like A Table for Two, which I saw yesterday. It’s a Korean documentary about a young woman who suffered from anorexia and bulimia as a teen and her mother. It’s the first movie I’ve ever seen about eating disorders that probed the psychological mindsets of people who have the disease—and the movie makes it clear that it is a disease, even if its triggers are mostly psychological. The young woman apparently felt neglected as a child after her parent divorced. Her mother admits as much. She was a student activist in the 80s during the dictatorship, and after democratization in the 90s she married and had a child but couldn’t find much purpose to her life. She eventually found a job in education that she loved but ignored her daughter’s spiritual needs. Most of the movie involves pointed discussions between mother and daughter, and they are quite enlightening. 

I also saw Thousand and One Nights, the Japanese submission to New Currents, the only section of the festival where awards are given out by the festival. I wasn’t expecting much but it was quite good. Yuko Tanaka plays a woman on Sado Island whose husband disappeared 30 years previously. She becomes a kind of advisor to a younger woman whose own husband disappeared two years ago. There’s some talk about possible abductions (though the words “North Korea” are never uttered) but the feeling you get is that these men disappeared because that’s what some men do. In a sense, it’s a woman’s film but it doesn’t make either of the two protagonists into crusaders. I found the subplot about the fisherman who is trying to get Tanaka to let go of her husband’s memory and marry him a bit annoying, because he himself is annoying. Maybe that was the point, but his nagging insistence, as well as their acquaintances, that she should marry him when she obviously just didn’t want to became too much in the end. 

I saw my second Iranian film of the festival in the afternoon. Scent of Wind was the opening movie for the festival. Like the other Iranian film I saw it’s mostly about how inconvenient life in rural Iran is. Both movies, for instance, contain a scene where a vehicle gets stuck due to the poor quality of roads. Scent also brings in two disabled characters, one of whom drives the plot, if you want to call it that. When the character’s power goes out an engineer from the power company has to go to all sorts of lengths to fix a broken transformer, and even pays for it out of his own pocket, because he sees that this character is taking care of a boy who is in a vegetative state. There’s very little dialogue and the acting is strictly movement-oriented. The real star of the film is the landscape, which is filmed in such a way as to highlight the massiveness of the mountain ranges that surround this part of Iran. 

Then I watched my first Indian movie of the festival. Mariam is about a Muslim family barely getting by in Mumbai. The title character is pregnant with her fourth child, and at first the viewer is drawn to believe that the husband is irresponsible for having more children when they can hardly feed the other three, but things are not what they seem. Mariam is one of those movies about the poor that goes from bad to worse to even worse. It’s a classic film tragedy in that regard, though it addresses a very modern phenomenon. And while I didn’t expect a happy ending, I also didn’t expect no ending at all. The movie just sort of cuts out, as if the filmmakers were exhausted by all the misery. 

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