Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Flight of a Winter Butterfly

Crossing was a hard movie to like, hampered as it was by some weak effects that made it fundamentally quite difficult to believe in. Obviously, this was rooted in the indisputable fact that a great many things about life in North Korea are already exceptionally hard to grasp, but it is nevertheless important for the atmosphere of a movie to strike watchers as legitimate, even when it is a movie about a place as extreme as North Korea; the only industrialized country to have suffered a famine in peacetime.

Now, however, what Crossing did not achieve, 겨울 나비 (Winter Butterfly), the new movie from defector Kim Kyu Min, who previously worked on Crossing, does.

It is a film which portrays beautifully the stark surroundings of a rural or semi-rural North Korean family. It is a landscape with no real comforts to speak of, but also nothing that one can point at and say is inconceivably and intolerably uncomfortable. That is with one clear exception; the utter fragility of the situation.

What the film ends up doing is breaking down this reality; it points out that if, and it is a big if, a family is well-constructed, with a father, a wife and a healthy child or two, things are probably alright (represented here by the happy wedding photo from times past), and even if a family is broken in some way (in this case, father appears to have passed away some years before) it can still survive, actually, though not in a way that is necessarily favorable (in this case, the young boy has to gather wood to make money, rather than going to school, but the mother sells the wood, and the family buys corn).

Yet, if one thing out of many does happen to go seriously wrong, it can have such profound implications that an already weakened family unit is destroyed in a heartbeat. This is living on the edge, and not in a good way.

Winter Butterfly is, then, a very thoughtful portrait of this kind of life, and if it were to be shown at western film festivals it would be very well-received, of this I am sure. However, it has a problem, or rather, to be absolutely accurate, the audience has a problem that the film may not be able to fix.

This horrifying act is thoughtfully portrayed, relevant and insightful, but it can hardly avoid reaffirming a certain stereotype about the country potentially harbored by watchers less knowledgeable about North Korea than those reading this.

It is a huge problem, and one rooted in something not easily overcome. Yet this film itself is so good and so important, so intelligent and so valid, that I would be happy to subtitle and distribute it myself.

Update: I spoke to the director this morning, and he said that there is a subtitled version of the film ready for distribution to film festivals next year.

On the central issue that could affect how watchers take the movie, Kim made a good point; if a defector cannot say these things and have them openly accepted, then nobody can. And, as I pointed out in my piece above, it is the way that the regime has created a system that leaves families blowing around in the perilous wind of accidents and arbitrarily applied official fiat that is the point here. Horrifying acts are just the result.

Also, as a result of his comments, I have removed reference to what actually happens since that might spoil it for watchers. If that makes this piece somewhat confusing, I apologize, but hope it inspires more people to watch the film when the chance arises.

No comments:

Post a Comment