Virgin Forest

Virgin Forest


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Virgin Forest is a strange, turgid story about the funeral of Hyun-Jung's maternal grandmother. We first see the director buying flowers - habitually haggling and unable to resist getting a little more for the money. They're fake flowers, which never wither and never die. Later, she's cleaning her grandmother's house - all the while assembling a video diary of the event.

Her companion, Sang-woo, is deeply skeptical about the whole thing - making crude jokes. Hyun-Jung is horrified. "You don't understand a person's pain". It seems the act of photographing it and keeping a record of the dead woman's existence matters deeply to her - "I'll keep it in my heart". While she photographs the place, Sang-woo watches pornography on his phone.

Copy picture

The documentary-style diary is interspersed with striking single shots of nature - baking red stone and the bluest of blue skies, people bathed in pagan orange, and a never-ending waterfall are some of the beautiful choice images. The film mixes a sad, somber reflection on good memories with the perpetual cycle of humanity. When decorating the grave, Hyun-Jung does her duty with care and love, while Sang-woo is less careful. With snippy, overtly cruel language, they get angry with one another.

The film never invites us to share in the human story, by never progressing beyond the depiction of its events. The observational documentary style, with the lack of awareness it implies - surely Sang-woo would notice the camera and behave himself! - combined with Hyun-Jung's odd, experimental mixtures of visuals and sound alienate the viewer. It affords no real thought about those for whom these spiritual rituals afford no comfort.

It's an odd, frustrating experience.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2013
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Thoughts and confrontations about family history at the home of the director's deceased grandmother.

Director: Lee Hyun-jung

Starring: Lee Hyun-jung, Lim Ku-man, Lee Sang-woo

Year: 2012

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: South Korea


EIFF 2013

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