Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hee-yeon Kim, Mi-hyang Kim, Song-hee Kim, Soo-ah Lee
Written by: So Yong Kim
Directed by: So Yong Kim
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Korean, with English subtitles
Running Time: 89
Date: 03/19/2013

Treeless Mountain (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Splendor in the Grasshoppers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Each year I see a handful of new "coming of age" movies, and they all seem based more on memories of movies than on memories of life. So Yong Kim's new Treeless Mountain, from South Korea, takes extraordinary steps to get out of that rut and put these movies back into the eyes of children. Her simple technique is to film her heroines, six-year-old Jin (Hee-Yeon Kim) and four-year-old Bin (Song-Hee Kim), mainly in close-up. The adult world is forever beyond the frame, out of reach and beyond understanding. These adults behave strangely and often badly, but we -- like the girls -- have no idea why. It begins as Jin and Bin's mother prepares for some kind of trip, presumably an attempt to patch things up with the girls' father, and dropping them off at their aunt's. The aunt (Mi-hyang Kim) is stern and sometimes drunk, but not without her nice moments. The mother tells the girls that she'll return when their piggy bank is full. So the girls begin selling roasted grasshoppers for spare change. (Later, they discover a clever scheme to fill up the bank faster.) Their hope rarely dwindles, but we in the audience know that, sooner or later, the girls will wind up at the threatened final destination: grandma and grandpa's farm. What happens there is quite unexpected. Director So Yong Kim does resort to Hollywood-like plot developments, but she eases them into the story as uneventful parts of the organic flow, rather than story-turning plot-points. The big payoff moment is so small and passes so quietly that it's almost unbearably beautiful.

DVD Details: Oscilloscope released this wonderful film on DVD in 2009, with a commentary track by director So Yong Kim and producer Bradley Gray (in English). Other extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, an interview, and a post-screening, on-stage Q&A with the filmmakers. There's also a selection of trailers for other Oscilloscope releases, including Wendy and Lucy.

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