The four short movies in the "Like a French Film" omnibus all deal with obstructed love. The nature of that obstruction changes from piece to piece. For an aging mother (played by Lee Young-ran), it's entirely her decision. For the bartender (played by Lee Yoo-mi), it's sincere disinterest. For the internationally inclined couple of So-yeon (played by Kim Soy) and Steve (played by Steven Youn), it's fate. For Soo-min (played by Shin Min-chul) it's...circumstance?
Yeah, I really didn't understand the last movie at all. The whole piece is just Soo-min overthinking his relationship with Gi-hong (played by Kim Dasom), a woman so scatterminded her character has no consistency from scene to scene. My best guess is that the short film is intended to be a satire of the romantic ideas propagated in high brow romantic films, where the tragedy is in how undefined the character relationships are of people who wander around pretty outdoor locations at random, like in a French film. Gi-hong pthus explicitly say that though, which seems like cheating.
The satire in the second short is a lot more transparent. The titular girl at the bar is being aggressively hit on by two men she has no interest in. But as bartender, the woman must tolerate their behavior, while making her wishes as rudely and directly clear as possible. Interestingly, the girl at the bar is not the perspective character. Mostly we see the scene from the point of view of the poet (played by Jung Joon-won-I) who tries to win her over with bad poetry.
In a traditional romance his efforts would be admirable. The second would-be suitor also fulfills a completely different set of romantic tropes. But through the tortured expressions of the girl at the bar, we see how genuinely unpleasant and unwanted the behavior of these men actually is. Even the ending apology underscores that they still don't really understand the problem. The bartender doesn't want an apology. She just wants them to shut up. Romance has nothing to do with it.
Lee Yoo-mi puts in a good performance- as do Kim Soy and Steven Youn in the third short who play an endlessly bickering couple who demonstrate tremendous resolve to be together as long as they can. It's rare to see the dynamic in a lover's spat portrayed so effectively. So-yeon and Steve fight because they are trying to do their best in the remaining time they have in the hopes of maybe fixing those mistakes for next time.
But for the old woman of the first short, there is no next time. We are watching the run-up to her time to leave, signaled by the appearance of two Japanese specialists. The sober look at the reality of an ideal end-of-days is thought-provoking- in typically uncomfortable ways. Although the subject matter is deep I was a bit disappointed that the story was confined just to a short. All of the ideas in "Like a French Film" could stand some expansion, strong as they are even in limited context.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Like a French Film""
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