A Girl at My Door
Having screened in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, A Girl at My Door went on to win a number of awards, including Best First Film at the Stockholm International Film Festival. Debut filmmaker July Jung weaves together tried-and-tested themes with those not often attempted in South Korean filmmaking, including lesbianism and illegal immigration, bringing something totally fresh to the region’s movie landscape. The result is a compelling watch, a film of understated beauty and intrigue.
Doona Bae (Cloud Atlas) plays Young-nam, a police chief relocated from Seoul to a small fishing town on account of some unspecified personal issue. She immediately crosses paths with Do-hee (Sae-ron Kim), a bedraggled and timid 14-year-old girl. The town quickly establishes itself as less than welcoming, with residents such as local drunk Yong-ha (Do-hee’s step-father) offering misogynistic comments by way of greeting. After discovering him viciously beating Do-hee one night, Young-nam takes steps to curtail his behaviour – not an easy feat given Yong-ha’s importance in the community. Eventually Young-nam decides she must take Do-hee into the protection of her own home, much to the gathering disapproval of the close-knit townsfolk.
A Girl at My Door begins as a somewhat tepid provincial drama of familiar routes (very watchable if not massively inspiring) before taking an unexpectedly dark turn, growing intensely uncomfortable as it progresses. Jung touches on an eclectic mix of subjects, including alcoholism, child abuse, mental illness and sexual mores, though none are explored to a satisfactory endpoint. This careful avoidance of true resolutions may be one of the film’s strengths, with Jung managing to sidestep clichés that may otherwise have cheapened the opulence of the narrative. It’s hard, really, to decide what to feel beyond the base unease provoked by the problematic, transgressive relationship that flourishes between Do-hee and Young-nam.
At its core, A Girl at My Door deals with loneliness and the complexity of the female condition. Jung’s narrative perpetually struggles between the tranquillity of moments alone with her actresses and the violence inflicted upon them, both physically and psychologically, by patriarchal society. Whilst the central two women are interesting and multi-faceted – Do-hee in particular defies attempts to rationalise or anticipate her actions – the characterisation of males is sacrificed. Yong-ha certainly feels more archetypal than substantial, and his frequent but unexplored outbursts grow a little wearisome. What the viewers are left with, though, is an exploration – at once gentle and savage – of female bonds, the nurturing instinct, and motherhood in the absence of mothers.
A Girl at My Door is released nationwide on 18th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for A Girl at My Door here: