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Arts & Culture Film, Theatre & TV

LOVE. MEMORY. OLD AGE

  • November 19, 2023
  • 6 min read
LOVE. MEMORY. OLD AGE

LOVE LIFE

Love Life is when your love life’s previous partners return to haunt you, while your current in-laws turn-out to scold you. 

Director Koji Fukada sets-up a story concerning a young married couple, bringing-up a deaf six-year-old son, and an expert player of a board game called Othello. Love Life is a movie born of masterful storytelling. Screenwriting at its finest. A French-Japanese co-production. It recalls the post war Italian and French existentialist cinema of ‘neo-realism’. Old school films tinged with darkness, yet underlying hope, amid tales of ‘socialist despair’. Fused here with aspects of classical Japanese filmmaking in a contemporary tale.  

In the film’s opening scene, a couple are viewed amid preparations for a 65th birthday party for young wife Taeko’s father-in-law. Husband Jiro’s parents live directly opposite in a claustrophobic replica apartment. Ensuing in-law recriminations towards Taeko are undermined due to her kindness. There are surprise gifts, along with pre-planned Parkside birthday stunts. All to honour this grumpy old man. This sets-up a bittersweet family situation. Soon to be turned on its head when their six-year-old disappears to play in their tiny bathroom. Off-camera, we hear him slip. There is a dull thud and a splash. Followed by a long lingering silence. The boy’s life ends there and then.

We soon discover that the boy is, in fact, the son of Taeko’s previous partner who had deserted her. Now homeless, the estranged deaf Korean suddenly returns out of nowhere to slap Taeko’s, full face. This is publicly done in front of her husband, Jiro, and the deceased boy’s funeral entourage. How he had discovered the whereabouts of the funeral parlour is later revealed. All in a multi-layered tale of partner betrayals. 

Taeko, who works for the social services, holds no grudges. She endeavours to rehabilitate her ex in order to deal with her loss and guilt-ridden pain. This comes with her husband’s blessings. A related scene is revealed by a trick of sunlight via a reflective hanging CD. It catches a sunbeam to shine its light towards Jiro’s parents’ now empty apartment. The place where Taeko has secretly allowed her ex to temporarily reside. The CD’s reflection spotlights Taeko and her ex while lampooning on the apartment’s balcony. This catches Jiro’s attention. So, he climbs a series of fire escapes to find out more.

Later, in the dead of night, an Earthquake Warning Alarm triggers a robotic voice on Taeko’s mobile phone. Taeko runs around the apartment while the whole building shakes and items fall. She rushes to a corner of a room to pick-up a game of Othello. The final game that she’d played with her son before his demise. Balancing the board, she retains the in-place pieces. A pertinent feat.

In a sequence before the end – leaving-out much of the storyline, so as not to spoil the wider plot – there is a touching scene that is stunningly well placed. Taeko randomly decides to log-on to an online game of Othello that her son had not concluded. The gamer speaks to Taeko. He’d seen the funeral newspaper notices and, as a consequence, had posted a short obituary, proclaiming her son to be an ‘Othello champion’. She sees the scan of the newspaper report that she’d previously missed. This story led to the boy’s father – her Korean ex – finding the funeral location in the first place. Thereby triggering this Love Life journey that you, the audience, are about to watch in this new movie of many surprises.

Check out Koji Fukada’s films at BFI Player 

PAST LIVES

Past Lives is a love story of immense depth. The film tells the story of three main characters. The film’s opening shot lingers on an unheard conversation as witnessed from the far side of a Manhattan bar. Seen from the point-of-view of overheard, but unseen voyeurs. The observers muse as to who the male and female South Koreans and a bearded New Yorker might be, pondering as to whether they are in a relationship, or not, and – more pointedly – with whom? 

This touching story is the semi-autobiographical debut of writer-director Celine Song. A Sundance Film Festival “Audience Award’ winner Past Lives is steeped in regret for the loss of a childhood love between Na Young aka Nora (played by Russian Doll’s Greta Lee) and her first love, Hae Sung (Teo Lee). Having emigrated from Seoul to Canada with her parents when aged 12, a decade later Nora becomes reconnected online with her childhood sweetheart, discovering that he too had been searching for her. Now a playwright, Nora eventually breaks off the online dalliance to concentrate on writing. She soon meets a fellow writer at an American countryside retreat, and moves in with him. 

Twenty years later Hae Sung comes to New York to seek out Nora in person. Here we become involved in scenes of incredible intensity, of love lost, and regret. The acting is electrifying. The chemistry between the on-screen characters? Hypnotic! The performances reduce inner thoughts to facial gestures, and telling glances. Never since Liliana Cavani’s 1974 film The Night Porter has acting been this sophisticated and subtle.

In an early childhood scene in the labyrinthian back streets of Seoul, we are told of the Korean term In-Yung, which means providence, or fate. This is the central core of the narrative. Perhaps also a nod back to Alain Resnais 1977 film Providence, which was also steeped in memory, and equally subtle acting – albeit in a very different movie. 

As Kimberley Sheehan, Film & Events Programmer at The BFI Southbank, surmises, “Shabier Kirschner’s cinematography is a divine cinematic experience, this is what we go to the movies for!” The camerawork is breath taking. Whereas so many movies are steeped in self-conscious trickery, here we have single take shots that we do not expect. Such deftly crafted scenes bear repeated viewing. You just cannot believe what is captured here in key single-take scenes. 

This is a love story for our times. it is born of internationalism, tenderness, and kindness. The best film I’ve seen this year.

Rerelease of the Month –

AN AUTUMN AFTERNOONRe-Release of the Month

Yasujiro’s Ozu’s final film An Autumn Afternoon (1962) is a window on Japan in transition. An insight into old age, the inevitable loss of one’s daughters into marriage, and a single father’s ensuing solitude. This film has you immersed in incredible scenes of wit and laughter, one second, and then leaves you in tears moments later. Ozu’s Tokyo Story is heralded by Sight & Sound Magazine as ‘The 4th Best Film’ of all time. For my money, however, this film is better. An Autumn Afternoon is Ozu’s touching masterpiece. A time capsule filled with human dignity and compassion. Simply one of the finest films ever made. 

This film can be seen online at BFI Player now.

About Author

Henry Scott Irvine

The published author of Procol Harum's hardback Omnibus Press biography, Henry Scott-Irvine's writing began in the script departments of the British film industry. He continued as a Film & TV 'Music & Arts' researcher. He has a long background in published journalism. A radio producer-presenter since 2009 as well as a producer of the award winning documentary film Tales From Tin Pan Alley. He's a successful campaigner for securing listings and preservation for London's music & film heritage sites.

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