VIFF: The Darling – Review

We’ve often seen Canada through a North American lens, but how to we look to the rest of the globe? Korean Filmmaker Lee Seung-Yup turns a lens to Canadian shores as he weaves his characters through a Metro Vancouver backdrop in his minimalist piece, The Darling.

 

Ostensibly taking it’s title from the Chekov short story of the same name, the film sees Lee Sunhwa (Jang Jieun), a famous Korean actress virtually unknown in Vancouver where she seems to be hiding out while visiting her cousin. Sunhwa is at a crossroads in her life with no way to go forward, but not much to go back to either. Her last movie is stuck in editing, her affair with a poet has gone sour, and any life advice she picks up from her psychic neighbour to a friend studying film fail to add any spark to her fire. It may take the insight of the one person to actually recognize her for who she is, an amateur photographer who is a fan of hers and also read many of the same books.

 

I wasn’t kidding when I called Darlinga minimalist effort. The films is shot almost entirely in long, black and white master takes; often outdoors with little sound effects or score. The effect can be frustrating at times, especially given the lack of movement or any real blocking. It’s also a nice change of pace however as the virtual zen of most of the proceedings allow the viewer to better reflect on the themes of love, personal happiness, and self-worth that are presented.

 

With most of the cast appearing in only one or two scenes, the film has to be carried by it’s lead and fortunately Jang Jieun is up to the task. The character of Sunhwa would be an easy one to sleepwalk through, but Jang carries much more baggage in her portrayal than she ever completely lets on. She has some curious cards in her hand, but they’ll never be completely laid on the table.

 

Despite it’s BC setting, the film is at least 80% Korean dialogue with few English scenes in between. While I’ve never taken issue with reading subtitles, I do bristle when they’re not done particularly well. The translation presented on my screener copy was absolutely riddled with spelling and grammatical errors (“What a fun!” Sunhwa exclaims to one character), which for better or worse, took me out of the film.

 

The Darlingis the type of movie that can only really be found at a film festival. An exercise in restraint, it strips down the loud and and colourful facade many other independent films seem to hide behind. A clearer arc and better staging would have elevated it significantly, allowing for repeat viewings. Nevertheless, it found a compelling leading lady to build itself around and for that I give it the most credit.

 

6.5/10

 

 

 

The Darling screens as part of VIFF on Wednesday Oct 3, 8:45pm at the Vancity Theatre.

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