Friday, September 21, 2007

viff07: secret sunshine

High recommendation indeed from Darren Hughes. "Move Secret Sunshine to the top of your list. It was my second favorite film at TIFF, and it contains the most dead-on accurate portrayal of evangelical Christianity that I've seen on film. My friend, who as far as I know has never stepped inside a Christian church, commented afterwards that he was really moved by the film and appreciated the way the filmmaker criticized the church while remaining sympathetic to it. It's also just a really great film with two great performances."
Secret Sunshine (Miryang)
South Korea, 2007, 142 min, 35mm

Directed By: Lee Chang-Dong

Since making Oasis in 2002 Lee Chang-Dong has served for a couple of years as Korea’s Minister of Culture, and it’s interesting to speculate what bearing his experience of high office has had on Secret Sunshine, a devastating account of a woman’s mental turmoil. Lee Shin-Ae (played with scalding intensity by Jeon Do-Yeon: Best Actress, Cannes) moves to her husband’s home town Miryang--the name means “Secret Sunshine”-- after his death in a road accident. Estranged from most of her own family and her in-laws, she’s determined to make a fresh start. She sends her young son Jun to school and opens a piano academy, fending off romantic overtures from a car-workshop owner (Song Kang-Ho, The Host) and "spiritual" overtures from a local Christian group. Then tragedy strikes again and she falls to pieces; her life becomes a vortex of hatred and forgiveness, faith and nihilism, composure and hysteria.

The word “gripping” is always over-used in blurbs, but it’s the right one here. Lee (who won our Dragons & Tigers award with his debut feature Green Fish) enters his character’s world with unsparing vehemence, taking the viewer to the very heart of an emotional breakdown and a fragile recovery. Bresson and Buñuel would likely both have admired the extraordinary achievement.

And this, excerpted from the International Herald Tribune...
By Joan Dupont
May 23, 2007

CANNES: It is difficult to picture Lee Chang Dong, the director of "Secret Sunshine," going up the red carpet. Lee, who was minister of culture in Korea, is a shy person and surely the most discreet director at this festival.

His film, which is in competition, looks quiet too. "Secret Sunshine" opens on a fable: a gentle young widow, a piano teacher, goes to a small town with her child. It is her husband's hometown, and the early signs are promising: people seem welcoming, the pharmacist smiles at her, and her small son adapts to his new school. ... But things are not as they seem and her life takes a tragic turn.

"Secret Sunshine" is mysterious and terrifying. At times, it feels like a thriller, with surprising twists, but it has a hidden core. It is a story of faith, how it can enter a life, and how it can vanish.


Today, with only four films Lee stands out on the current scene, an intellectual who searches the hidden significance in ordinary lives. This is his originality, and what gives a sense of mystery to his films. ...

Lee shot in CinemaScope for the first time. "Most suspense movies aren't made in CinemaScope," he said, "but I thought it would be a good way to show the little things, the details in our daily life. I felt that CinemaScope could be a way of telling this story which is not just about what you see, but also touches on what is hidden. I tried to compose the scenes in such a way that you are not aware of the composition, only fluidity."

We are not so much in a state of suspense, as stunned by each turn of the story. "I think that audiences today know everything, so my goal is to do something unpredictable, to show them something they don't expect," he added.


There are evangelistic forces in Miryang and they get to work on the bereft woman. In no time, she is converted - but that is not the end of the story. In a densely written script, stories keep blossoming: some are unbearably sad, others funny.

"You see many crosses against the skyline of Korean cities," the director said. "There are many religions and sects. My family has a Confucian tradition so I had no religion, but my wife's family was Protestant, and I taught in a Protestant school."

Lee says that things that happened in his own life made him feel close to this story. "The woman's great despair touched me. She is in such pain, but in the end, she finds something inside herself.

"I think we keep living with faith because we need it. Even atheists believe in something - in something else. Yet, I didn't want to make a movie about faith, really, but a reflection on what goes on inside us. Cinema is a great tool, a way to talk about the invisible through the visible."


Peter T Chattaway said...

I don't know if I'd call it the most dead-on accurate, but it's certainly up there, and it's certainly worth a look.

Peter T Chattaway said...

See also Victor Morton and J. Robert Parks: