Keswick Film Club - Reviews - A Girl at My Door

Reviews - A Girl at My Door

A Girl at My Door

Reviewed By Chris Coombes

A Girl at My Door
A Girl at My Door
Last Sunday's film was a special treat from South Korea. In our globalised world where so much is standardised, it's lovely to be reminded that strong cultural differences still exist and can intrigue. I'm always thrilled to see films from South Korea because they are just so different.

At first I thought A Girl at My Door was light and one-dimensional, but as we settled into the story, it became clear that it was multi-layered and subtle and surprisingly sensitive about women's issues. It wasn't easy to watch, some of it was confronting and uncomfortable, but it was ultimately extremely rewarding.

It was made in 2014 by Director July Jung and stars Bae Doona and the delightful teenager Kim Sae-ron. These two main actors complement one another really well – the older woman so closed down that we have to work hard to read her and understand what motivates her – the younger woman very dramatic and open, fooling us into thinking we know her.

The story tells how Police Chief Lee Young-nam finds herself transferred to a quiet seaside village, following a personal scandal. The village is one that we can all recognise – the young people have left, illegal migrant workers are brought in and exploited, and there is something distinctly off-kilter about the way the village functions. The new chief has a drink problem and is very wary indeed of the people amongst whom she has landed.

Chief Young-nam meets Seon Do-hee, a timid and withdrawn 14 year-old girl, covered with cuts and bruises who is bullied by classmates and physically abused by her violent stepfather since Do-hee's mother abandoned them. The relationship that develops between the Chief and the girl unfolds in ways that we don't necessarily expect, and the film is a very interesting analysis of the destructive forces that can be unleashed when a child is abused, and is unable to rely on the people in her neighbourhood to help her.

The tension of the story builds as the Police Chief appears to be entrapped by her relationship with her young charge who is less innocent than she appears, and who by the end of the film is described by one of the Chief's colleagues as a monster. She is a monster, but she really has no choice about how to be. She isn't given the chance to be any different, and does what she has to do to survive. There are some creepy moments as the teenager changes her appearance to look more and more like her saviour the Chief, and we speculate on whether or not the Police Chief is seeing herself when she looks at Seon Do-hee, and if she is in fact saving herself when she decides to step in and protect Do-hee from her stepfather.

As well as strong performances, there are some lovely landscapes that are at odds with the ugliness of the villagers' lives and a beautiful musical score that is used sparingly to great effect. A thoroughly accomplished piece of film-making.

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