(unpublished article about Pusan International Film Festival 2010)
How can a single parent live with the death of his/her one and only child? This could well be the most painful loss a human being has ever experienced. And it may become even more painful when he/she finds out some hidden truths about the dearest one. This sensitive topic was tackled in two remarkable debut feature films selected for the “New Currents” competition of the 15th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF).
The Korean film Bleak Night a.k.a. Boys into the Night [Pasuggun] by Yoon Sung-hyun, winner of the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI Prize) in Pusan, kicks off with a very violent scene, whose protagonists are unidentifiable teenagers. After the credits roll, we get to know that Ki-tae, a high school boy, has died (we don’t know how yet, but we are tempted to think that he was beaten to death) and his widowed father, owner of a small shop, is now devastated. The grieving parent contacts his son’s colleagues, only to realize he doesn’t have a clue about Ki-tae’s real life and to feel more sorrow for not having been there for him.
Most of the film is made up of flashbacks with the high school kids, particularly Ki-tae and his seemingly best friends Dong-yoon and Hee-june “Becky”, who live in a microcosm free of grown-ups and governed by its own rules. The young, but amazingly mature director juggles with time in order to gradually construct a complex and contradictory central character. At the beginning we see Ki-tae as a bully desperate for attention and control over the other boys, but, little by little, we become aware that he is vulnerable because his mother is dead and his father is almost always absent. He is also truly devoted to his two friends and the terrifying thought of having lost them makes him take his own life.
The film doesn’t have a happy ending for Ki-tae’s father. We cannot be sure whether he has found out the truth about his son or not, if only it would matter. We see him being left alone to his grief and we perceive once more the huge generation gap between parents and children.
This gap seems much smaller in the film Memories in March by Indian helmer Sanjoy Nag. Although Siddharth has left his middle-aged divorced mother Arati alone in Delhi for a job opportunity within a leading advertising agency in Kolkata, parent and child are still in close communication. And then, out of the blue, Arati gets the news that her son has died in a car accident. She flies immediately to Kolkata in a state of shock, to collect Siddharth’s ashes and his belongings. Little does she know that another big shock is waiting for her in the city: her beloved son was gay and had an affair with his supervisor, Ornob. Although she seems open-minded, Arati is in fact a conservative woman and coming to terms with Siddharth’s sexual orientation is as difficult for her as accepting his son’s death. However, during the few days she spends in his son’s apartment, Arati understands that Ornob’s sense of loss may be as powerful as her own and that their love was genuine. This common grief and their shared memories about Siddharth will result in bringing them together.
Unlike Yoon Sung-hyun, Sanjoy Nag doesn’t show the dead son in flashbacks; we can only hear his voice reading his messages to his mother. Thus, this absent central character is constructed through his words and the others’ memories of him, and we must make some efforts to imagine him as he was. Combining dramatic and comic moments, Memories in March deserves also the credit of being one of the very few Hindi films that manage to deal honestly and severely with the still delicate issue of homosexuality, whereas many Bollywood productions make it a target of ridicule.
These two first features, with their two different, but equally justified, approaches to the death of the dearest one, propose us two Asian directors worthy of attention.