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South Korea 2009


Ounie Lecomte

Kim Sae-ron
Park Do-yeon
Ko Ah-sung
Park Myeong-shin
Oh Man-seok
Mun Seong-kun
Baek Hyun-joo
Jeong Ye-jin
Mun Hackjin
Lee Han-byoul
Kim Yoo-nah
Sol Kyung-gu

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A Brand New Life

Story: The little girl Jin-hee (Kim Sae-ron) is brought into a Catholic orphanage by her father. At first she doesn't understand what's happening and when her father simply walks away she won't believe that he really left her alone. She refuses to eat and hides on the orphanage ground all day long. Eventually, she has to realize, though, that she will be staying there for a while. Whereas the other children try to make a good impression when potential adoptive parents visit the orphanage Jin-hee remains mute as she wants to stay at the orphanage until her father comes back to fetch her. In time the girl makes friends with 11-years-old Sook-hee (Park Do-yeon) but that girl, too, wants to be taken in by new parents as soon as possible. Jin-hee slowly starts to build emotional links to the other children but one after another they leave the orphanage to start a brand new life somewhere else. For Jin-hee it's also just a matter of time until she will be adopted by someone.

Review: There are art-house movies that are pretty obviously made for festival audiences and simply want to be art for the sake of art. You oftentimes ask yourself why there isn't more that such a movie wants to convey. After all film is a medium that can be made use of in a lot of ways in order to deal with all kinds of subjects. Thus, it's not enough to make the protagonist stroll in silence through a screenplay that is limited to the most necessary in the best "artically demanding" way possible. Sadly, that's exactly what has become common practice. Furthermore, such movies aren't just exhausting but even boring. So it's even the more refreshing to get to see a movie like "A Brand New Life". This without a doubt is an art-house film as well, the pacing is rather slow and it also was screened at Cannes. Nonetheless, the movie can instantly win you over and touch you in a pleasently unmanipulative way.

A Brand New Life - Film Screenshot 11

"A Brand New Life" is a Korean-french co-production which at first glance portrays the life of female director Ounie Lecomte which has also been put up at an orphanage until she was adopted by a french family. In fact, the story is simply strongly based on her own experience. Talks with Lee Chang-dong ("Oasis", "Secret Sunshine") could convince him of her story so that he stepped in as a producer. The result - and by saying that I will probably turn many film critics and fans against me - is far more well-achieved and moving than many of Lee's films!
Lecomte's movie also doesn't refrain from necessary dialogue and creates a drama that is most of all so captivating because of the convincing psychological illumination of Jin-hee. But also on a technical level there is nothing to criticize. The movie is captured in beautiful pictures and the slightly greyish autumn atmosphere fits wonderfully into the sad but also melancholically bittersweet rest of the movie.

A Brand New Life - Film Screenshot 12

The introductory scene of Jin-hee happily eating together with her father (played in a cameo by Sol Kyung-gu!), singing him a song and clinging to her dad on the bike, make the scene in which her father leaves her with a cake at an orphanage even the more tragical. Jin-hee can't understand at first what has happened and that her life is now about to change drastically. Her initial disorientation caused by being left alone by her father makes room for deep sorrow and anger. Kim Sae-ron, who one year later should also play a role in "The Man From Nowhere", doesn't just embody a little child that is supposed to win over the viewers' hearts with her cuteness but she also proves to be an impressive child actress. She shows a huge amount of emotions, some of them pretty complex and therefore manages to present the different stages of her emotional state in the most convincing way. At some points it's even hard to believe that a small child is really capable of portraying these kinds of feelings.

In a few scenes the feelings of Jin-hee can show to advantage especially well. When she hears one of the children explain to the others that Jin-hee isn't a guest but is now one of them the little girl can't continue denying towards herself that she will have to stay at this place for a while now. That is also the moment in which she realizes that she won't see her father ever again. There is also one of the nuns who lets off steam concerning her sadness and anger about having to see her children leave the orphanage year by year by beating the laundry and she recommends to Jin-hee, when she in her anger destroys the toys of other children, to do the same. Apart from that there is one powerful scene in which Jin-hee decides to die. To do that she wants to bury herself in her childish naivity. Even though the viewer knows that this won't work out, and maybe Jin-hee does so as well, this scene has symbolic significance concerning Jin-hee's inner emotional state.

A Brand New Life - Film Screenshot 13

Jin-hee rebels against the nuns of the orphanage, doesn't give up asking about her father and can only open up emotionally to the girl Sook-hee after a while just to be disappointed once again. It is easy to suffer along with this girl who suddenly finds herself being abandoned by the whole world and has to deal with situations which she shouldn't even know at her age. "A Brand New Life" shows how much pain children are in fact capable of enduring and how little they differ from adults in respect of how to deal with it. Director Lecomte captures those feelings in honest pictures and thus manages to touch us without giving us the impression that this was the movie's aim to begin with. That makes the drama work out even the more and the melancholic mood and some powerful scenes make the film stick with you long after the credits. This is why this unmanipulative but touching movie should be seen by all drama-friends who care for honest stories.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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