Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

With a Girl of Black Soil

  • Jeon Soo-il /
  • South Korea, France /
  • 2007 /
  • 88 mins

Yu Yunmi, Jo Yungjin, Hyunwoo Park, Kang Sooyoun, Yim Jintaik, Yoo Soonchul

A South Korean drama infused with the honesty of NeoRealism and Truffaut’s humanism.

The short film Household Gods will be screened with all the showings of With a Girl of Black Soil.

?In an industrial sector that brings in only 0.22 percent of South Korea’s yearly GDP, Hyegon literally quarries his health away at South Korea’s Kanwondo coal mine. On his subsequent redundancy, the traditional Confucian propriety of his household dissolves: it is his nine-year-old daughter Yeong-lim who becomes central, tending to her learning disabled brother Tong-gu while Hyegon mourns in bars. Yet as he reasserts his power over his children, this fluid change in symbolic hierarchies solidifies into ties of loyalties, and a power struggle whose dénouement is singularly shocking. Aside from the calibre of its performances and its startling coal-on-snow formality, what is most striking about With a Girl of Black Soil is its seemingly wilful opposition to contemporary South Korean cinematic output. It arguably harkens back the work of Hyun Mok-yoo, especially his 1961 classic Obaltan, in its neo-realist critiquing of South Korea’s post-war industrial development. Its political and tonal binaries resound also with Chinese director Yang Li’s Blind Shaft (EIFF 2003), especially the plan sequence mining scenes: both films have a verité intensity not seen since the industrial documentaries of Geoffrey Jones. As an emotional equivalent of a modern day Trümmerfilm, it exists also as evidence of a South Korean neo-realism hanging out its dirty linen, just like De Sica 60 years previous. What truly elevates the film’s formal intensities is its diligent trust of a child’s interiority. Singing in tune with François Truffaut’s humanism, this flowers like an industrial South Korean L’Argent de poche. And whilst the very existence of Jeon Soo-il’s film shows there have been changes in South Korea’s hegemony (Obaltan was banned: this premiered at the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival), its themes suggest South Korea’s now export-reliant industrial economy still rests upon the inevitable fracturing of its working classes. As ever, it’s those at the thin end of the economic wedge who suffer: a repetitive, soil-black economic hardship that comes bound up with young girls and their fragile psyches.

2008 Archive

Image from With a Girl of Black Soil

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