QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Middle-aged, jobless actor Isaac (Jang Mi-gwan) takes his squeamish teenage daughter Shua on a camping trip,. They barely bond, with the girl instead panicking at the insects, and screaming frantically upon waking up from a very bizarre nightmare. She phones her mother for help, leaving the well-intentioned and hapless dad deeply embarrassed and unsure of how to react. Shua’s mother becomes infuriated, threatening and insulting her previous partner. This is just one of the many story threads that are loosely yet not always coherently connected. This is an intentional artifice: October Metafiction proposes to dovetail narrative layers seamlessly. It isn’t always possible to distinguish between reality, dream and allegory. This is a self-reflective piece of filmmaking that often alludes to its own multilayered structure. It only partly works.
The story-within-a-story device is used at least a couple of times. Isaac meets a film director that he once worked with, confessing that he wishes to resume acting while also sharing some secrets of his own life, which then acquire a visual lease of life of its own. Parallel to this, a Japanese girl called Mary recalls the day she found out she was adopted: she was so shellshocked by the revelation that she fell back and nearly killed her dog. Her super-sad memories are narrated through flashback devices. She is determined to find out who real biological parents are, which takes her on a mission to the neighbouring South Korea. She will eventually crosses paths with Isaac, as the strange (and ambiguous) truth begins to emerge. Isaac is defined by his relationship to the various female characters. A man of search of his manhood.
Director Kyu-jun Cho is a filmmaker with a passion for low-budget and this clearly shows. Lack of money of course isn’t a handicap. Instead, it’s often a catalyst for innovation. The problem with October Metafiction is that the complexity and the inventiveness of the story do not allow for cheap antics. As a result, the film often feels puerile or amateurish. The flashbacks are clunky, the transitions are abrupt, and some of the scenes – such as an awkward trial in heaven (or maybe it’s a stage?) – just don’t work at all. The result is more film school than Alain Resnais. More Sidney Sheldon than Franz Kafka (the characters briefly allude to the German-speaking writer).
Another problem is that the movie lacks the spontaneity and informality you would normally associated with low-budget films. Instead the interactions feel stagey and contrived. Don’t expect the light-breeze casualness of Hong Sang-soo (Cho Kyu-jun’s countryman, who also makes films on a shoestring budget). Plus an intensely exasperating piano score detracts the attention from what’s in reality a very interesting plot. In other words: a charming and inventive little movie a tad too ambitious for own sake.
October Metafiction just premiered in the Official Selection of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.