Notes on SFIFF 53: Ounie Lecomte’s “A Brand New Life” (2009) / Whang Cheol-mean’s “Moscow” (2009).

A Brand New Life

I struck gold immediately with my first viewing at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, Ounie Lecomte’s beautifully understated debut, A Brand New Life (Yeo-haeng-ja). (See preview here.) I can see audiences responding positively to this (I’m hoping for wider distribution), for its unfussy plainness is easy to like – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not that the subject matter isn’t challenging: the setting is a Korean girls’ orphanage in 1975, and our protagonist is a nine-year old girl named Jin-hee (played by the remarkable Kim Sae-ron) whose father has suddenly, tragically, put her up for adoption overseas. Her only response for a good part of the film is a stunned, withdrawn silence. It’s not just out of the depths of her grief; her silence mirrors her incomprehension, and it’s crucial that we in the audience don’t understand either. Watch for the scene with a doctor when we realize what Jin-hee does understand; it’ll break your heart.