Article by Davide Gravina
Translation by Sebastiano Liso
After the credits of Birth, which was screened in competition at the 41st Torino Film Festival, the clatter of computer keys cannot halt. Jay (Han Hae-in) is a promising young, talented writer, undoubtedly ambitious, not fearful at all and encouraged by the career path she decided to pursue. She cannot and does not know how to do anything else. Jay’s partner Geonwoo (Lee Han-ju) is an English teacher at a private institute who seems content to live in his girlfriend’s shadow, helping her as best he can and giving up his own individual happiness. An uneven love story, only seemingly stable, but, in fact, deeply unhealthy. Their balance is challenged when she discovers she is pregnant, despite the continued use of contraceptives.
This unexpected pregnancy resembles an unfortunate twist of fate: the two protagonists welcome it as an unpredictable obstacle, while director and screenwriter Yoo Ji-young, on the other hand, investigates it. Her formal cleanliness and stylistic limpidity come to life right from the first establishing home shots, which follow throughout the prologue (lasting an unusual 40 minutes). The frames are refined to the last detail, and they interpose the two protagonists with everyday objects, such as cups, glasses or half-empty wine bottles, timely metaphors of the difficulties they will be forced to face.
“It is difficult to identify with the protagonist, because she is too selfish,” the editor tells Jay after reading a draft of her third novel, also titled “Birth”. The intradiegetic reference is obvious: it is not the book’s protagonist who is selfish, but Jay herself, who voluntarily puts her relationship at risk to pursue her dream. Ji-young Yoo seems to shout in every possible way that it is not selfishness, but only individual dignity. She has not only experienced a similar story firsthand – the distance she manages to keep from her own narrative, without lapsing into trivial moralism or rhetoric of any kind, is praiseworthy – but, as a woman, she was forced to clash with a deeply sexist society as the Korean one. Exactly like the protagonist of Birth.
There are two elements which perfectly sum up this both rational and emotional film: on the one hand, a sharp pencil, the quintessential symbol of writing, slowly shortens. Not because of its natural function (of course, writing), but because Geonwoo – frustrated by his work failures and his partner’s extreme egocentrism – smashes it against a table until it breaks. On the other, a black, unsolvable and constantly moving Rubik’s cube that never stops turning in Jay’s hands, as if she wanted to exorcise her anxiety, caused by the need to deal with an individualism far from exaggerated, but simply human. These two souls are intertwined in the film: they dream and argue, cry and break up, giving viewers a work capable of objectively and sentimentally portraying love, its capabilities and its limitations.