Grief and loss over a loved one has been a popular topic in cinema this year, perhaps because many filmmakers see it as a shortcut to genuine emotion. There is no pain comparable to losing a child, one can only imagine the suffering. However, it is hard to get right unless one has experienced that themselves. Shin Dong-seok’s debut feature, Last Child, is a subtle voyage through heart-wrenching grief.
A middle-aged couple (Choi Moo-seong and Kim Yeo-jin) pick up the pieces after losing their young son, Eunchan, six months ago when he attempted to save his friend from drowning. Sungcheol wants to help Kihyun (Seong Yu-bin), the boy who was saved, by taking him under his wing and offering him work in his interior design business. His wife, Missok, is reluctant to grow too attached to the young boy, though eventually embraces him. But one day, unable to bear the guilt any longer, Kihyun reveals what really happened that day by the river.
The first half of the film depicts the trio recovering slowly through daily routine: painting walls, slicking up wallpapers, sharing meals together. They grow closer through the routine but as the couple begin to relax, Kihyun’s guilt creates a secret tension. Choi Moo-sung plays the grieving father with heavy affectation, tortured yet noble at the same time. The focus on interior design acts as a strong visual metaphor for a couple desperate to forget the past yet incapable of starting over.
Director Shin controls the emotions meticulously, never letting the performances descend into hammy hysteria. Unfortunately, the climax falls under its own weight and undermines the careful development that preceded it. Nevertheless, Last Child is a promising debut that displays nuanced performances and a profound understanding of grief.
Last Child does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
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