23 January 2008

In Between Days

Full credits from IMDb

Directed by: So Yong Kim
Written by: So Yong Kim & Bradley Rust Gray

Grade: B-

In Between Days is a remarkably faithful chronicle of the teenage experience, especially as, just like those years, it turns out to be so inconsequential. Shot with a handheld digital camera without the use of non-diegetic music, the film tracks Jiseon Kim—a non-professional actress who makes a fantastic debut as a mumbly, mousy teen with a sweet and dimpled smile—over the course of several days in her life as an immigrant living in Canada. It plays out in a series of brief glimpses into her activities: at English class, making dinner, washing the dishes, doodling, riding the bus. But most of all, it’s about her awkward relationship with her best friend, fellow Korean-speaker Taegu Andy Kan, as they buy each other presents, leave each other voice mails, engage in juvenile delinquency, push each other away, make each other jealous, and try just to figure out how to talk to one another.

Though both seem to have some sort of attraction to the other, neither can bring themselves to say it. And so it goes unsaid. In Between Days is about the difficulty of learning how to communicate with one’s peers, particularly those of the opposite sex, while also about the strain in communicating with a culture that isn’t one’s own, one that literally speaks a different language. (Kim and Kan seem brought together by their shared mother tongue more than anything else.) Being a teenager is like being an immigrant, the film suggests; as if each on its own wasn’t tough enough, being both seems impossible.

In Between Days is set, or at least shot, in Toronto, which the filmmakers present as a cold city both in its temperatures, emphasized by the juicy sound of snow crunching underfoot, and in its alienating landscape of metal towers, apartment complexes, highways and chain-link overpasses. Sarah Levy’s heavily Antonioni-inspired cinematography (nod to Gianni Di Venanzo) highlights the marginalized character of Jiseon Kim’s existence, as not only an immigrant facing a language barrier but also as a teenager, with each estranged experience informing the other. In Between Days, as a study of the loneliness of teen age, the uneasiness of being a nonnative and the complexity of navigating the fickle waters of romance, is slight and inconsiderable, but at least it avoids slipping into pretension; it’s sweet, subtle and pointless.

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