By Roger Costa
HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD ⭐⭐⭐⭐
In the opening sequence, the protagonist, an outcast 14-year-old girl anxiously knocks at her home’s door, calling her mother out in order to let her in. She seems to be ignored, or rejected, and this sense of abandon will permeate throughout the entire film. It’s 1994 in Seoul, the year of the Seongsu Bridge’s collapse, and defenseless Eunhee is experiencing an awful coming of age phase; She is living under a dysfunctional roof, filled with confrontations between her absent parents, regarding drinking, expenses and loyalty. Her older brother is a total bully, engaged on a routine of beating her up for ridiculous reasons, while her sister prefers to keep it quiet about her feelings toward the crowded conflicts. Her only console comes from her best friend at school, with whom she shares her secret encounters and mutual desires for both a rich boy, and a tomboy girl; She also finds peace and acceptance at the arms of her calligraphy’s teacher, as they develop an empathetic relationship to overcome the sufferings from an abusive male society. As these characters find new ways to intervene and interact in the world surrounding them, Eunhee returns to the same point in the opening sequence, screaming out for her mother, but unable to reach her attention. It’s a moment of evolution in Eunhee’s quest for love, identity, meaning and fulfillment, as she might understand at this point, some harsh facts that come along with maturity. Eunhee also develops a mysterious bump under her ear, creating a sense of unknown and uncertainty in the narrative, as everyone becomes emotionally involved and worried about her health condition. Some will cry out their desperation and fear, such as her father, who breaks down in tears at the doctor’s office; others will keep on ignoring and abusing her, some will offer her companionship and guidance, while others will make vows of eternal love. As she observes the transformations around her, inside her home, in school, and in society, Eunhee struggles to find the right tune for herself, as she experiences alliances and disappointment at equal levels. A stunningly crafted directorial debut, South Korean emerging filmmaker Bora Kim conceived a delicate, intense, deeply moving homage to adolescence, first love and family virtues.
Winner of several Best First Film Awards, including at Berlin, London, Cyprus, Seattle and Tribeca Film Festivals, it’s a beautifully observed production about female endurance, with poignant piano music by Matija Strnisa, precise editing by Zoe Sua Cho, and amusing, luminous cinematography at the direction of Guk-hyun Kang. Undoubtedly one of this year’s most satisfying surprises.
(Well Go USA/Kino Lorber. 6/26. Film At Lincoln Center’s Virtual Cinema. Go to http://www.wellgousa.com/films/house-of-hummingbird for details.)
THIS TEACHER ⭐⭐⭐
Writer-director Mark Jackson’s third feature is a mind-bending political satire that will provoke and stimulate moral debates. Blending social commentary, drama and suspense, the film follows the disturbing experience of a French-Arabic young woman who arrives at New York City to visit her longtime friend. Feeling disoriented, lost and alone in the big city, she is pushed to her limits by her friends and decides to look for inner strength isolating herself at a cabin-hotel in the woods. While exploring the remote, scary and dark place, confronting her own ideas, and conceiving a personal escape-out, she seeks inspiration and restoration among Nature, and befriends an eccentric couple made of a 9-11 survivor cop, and his patriotic teacher girlfriend. As she’s invited to drink (for the first time in her life) and play some adult’s games with them, she unleashes her perspectives and reactions about Nationalism, the differences and prejudice between Americans and Muslims and the cultural barriers separating one from another. Shot under a claustrophobic atmosphere, bizarre and ambiguous, Jackson extracts convincingly naturalistic performances from the entire cast, resulting in an accomplished psychological thriller, a stirring look at contemporary ethnic conflicts.
(Breaking Glass Pictures. 6/22. On VOD and DVD. Go to https://www.bgpics.com/movies/this-teacher/ for details.)