QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Jin Woo (Kang Gil Woo) and Hyun Min (Hong Kyung) are in a quiet relationship that does not dare speak its name. They both work in a family farm with the little Seol (Kim Si Ha, in a shining child performance). Hyun has an extra job as a poetry teacher in the local school for adults, and his students adore him. Their life is very tranquil, almost Utopian. They enjoy each other’s company, the little girl, their employers and the numerous sheep. It looks like they found the dream home away from the buzz of Seoul.
One day, Seol’s mother Eun Young (Lee Sang Hee) shows up without warning in order to visit her daughter. Jin Woo isn’t delighted to see the woman, promptly reminding her that she abandoned the child years earlier. They tell the young Seol that the woman is Jin Woo’s “twin sister” and they won’t disclose that she’s her mother. Seol is so used to the paternal figures that she calls Jin Woo’s “mother” and Hyun Min “father”. A very unusual family structure for a deeply conservative Korea. Eun Young’s presence will ruffle some feathers in the local community, raising awkward questions about the nature of the relationship between the two men.
Their employers consist of three generations: a very old and demanding grandmother, a doting father and a diligent daughter. The latter is infatuated with Jin Woo, yet accepting of his relationship with the charming Hyun Min. At first, its isn’t entirely clear whether the two men and Seol are connected to their employers, or even to their very own child. Blood relations and dirty secrets slowly surface. There is no rush in clarifying how the characters are associated with each other. And that’s fine. This is a quiet film that challenges orthodox patriarchal structures. Audiences understand the psychology of each individual character ahead of their social role.
The lush hills dotted with sheep and a sapphire blue lake provide the backdrop to this very slow story. The sounds of nature are captured in minute detail. They represent the divine and blissful state-of-mind for which the characters are striving. Despite being directly beneath their feet, this idyll still feels very distant from our troubled characters.
This is not the average LGBT film to which Western audiences are used nowadays. There is no steamy sex, not even a kiss. Yet there is no ambiguity about the nature of the male homosexual relation, a remarkable achievement per se for Korean film. Park Chan-wook’s 2017 mega hit The Handmaiden indeed features abundant Lesbian interaction, but that’s mostly a voyeuristic experience. A Distant Place feels palpable and real.
A Distant Place has just premiered at the 24th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the event’s Official Competition. The director could not attend the screening due to the pandemic travel restrictions. He joined spoke to audience through video link from a very distant Korea, noting the irony of the film title.