A Distant Place


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Distant Place
"A remarkably accomplished piece of storytelling." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

Jin-woo (Kang Kil-woo) works hard for his living, tending sheep and performing whatever tasks are required of him on the small hill farm outside Hwa-cheon where he has made his home. He lives a modest life, raising four-year-old Seol (Kim Si-ha) and enjoying a good relationship with the owner and his family, but there is something missing. When old friend Hyun-min (Hong Kyung) comes to visit, everything falls into place. The two are deeply in love and want to spend their lives together - but making it work in a place like this won't be easy.

Although same sex relationships are no longer illegal in South Korea, public awareness and understanding remains low, especially in rural areas. Discrimination is widespread so Jin-woo and Hyun-min try to keep their relationship a secret as the latter finds a job teaching poetry and quickly wins the affection of little Seol. Having another adult in her life has happened at the right time as the household's oldest resident, whom she thinks of as her grandmother, is going through a swift mental and physical decline. But when the girl's mother Eun-young (Lee Sang-hee) arrives at the farm with her ow ideas about the child should be raised, everything becomes more complicated.

Despite the impact of homophobia on the men's lives, there are no real bad guys in this film, which finds some measure of sympathy for every one of its characters. The story is driven by the different kinds of love that exist between them and by their internal conflicts. Jin-woo and Hyun-min also disagree with one another about how best to respond to prejudice and about whether or not Seol should be going to school. Meanwhile, the farm owner's daughter, Moon-kyeong (Ki Do-young) has to deal with the multiple stresses of caring for the dying woman and realising that her feelings for Jin-woo will never be requited.

All this is handled with grace and sensitivity by director Park Kun-young, who skilfully balances the multiple strands of the plot. It's beautifully shot in a style which makes the most of the rural landscape. picking up on all he small details of the changing seasons and making wonderful use of natural light. The performances are impressive throughout, with little Kim remarkably assured amongst the adults. Often the camera descends to her height, inviting us to share Seol's perspective on events. Like all children, she tends to accept things at face value, which raises another difficult question: ought she to learn about the prejudices of the wider world so that she can fit in?

That prejudice, here, doesn't manifest as violence but takes more passive aggressive forms: avoidance, resentful looks, subtle exclusion. It isn't universal, with some characters arguing for a live and let live approach which makes the obstinacy of others less excusable in a film which doesn't patronise its rural characters. The damage it does is also explored with restraint. We see the subtle change that comes over Jin-woo as he finds himself feeling less and less at home. It's a portrait of an experience which LGBTQ+ viewers will now well, but which others will find makes sense o them for the first time.

With its shifting moods mirrored by the weather and Park's depictions of nature, A Distant Place has an innate rhythm and poetry which add to its appeal and lend it all the more gravity. It's a remarkably accomplished piece of storytelling, easily the best film t this year's Inside Out, and not to be missed.

Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2021
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A man who has retreated to the countryside find his delicate balance upset by the visit of an old friend.

Director: Park Kun-Young

Writer: Park Kun-Young

Starring: Kang Gil-woo, Hong Kyung, Lee Sang-hee, Ki Joo-bong

Year: 2020

Runtime: 119 minutes

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