TIFF Dispatch: Albert Shin’s In Her Place

8 September, 2014 0 comment

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On a rural South Korean farmstead, a married middle-aged couple arrive at the home of a single mother (Kil Hae-yeon) and her pregnant teenage daughter (Ahn Ji-hye). The parties have struck a deal. The couple will adopt the girl’s child fathered by her teenage boyfriend, now unwanted by her mother. Meanwhile, while the husband returns to the city, the wife (Yoon Da-kyung) will stay to accompany the expecting mother until her baby is due.

Ottawan Albert Shin’s forlorn second feature dramatizes the common practice of secret adoptions in a part of the world where the pressure to maintain ancestral lineage is often as immense as it is unforgiving. To avoid being cast as failures, married couples unable to produce children sometimes resort to adopting newborns in secrecy. While this still doesn’t stop the rampant speculation about the reproductive lives of others, the logic goes that when appearances are kept, social harmony is attained.

Much of the story’s dramatic arc derives from the mutual distrust the film’s three female characters develop toward one another. This tension builds slowly, taking the form of a poisonous chill which breezes into the household the moment the couple arrives. But the emotional heart of this three-way relationship is centred around the girl’s growing refusal to surrender her child to strangers. When she realizes the adults around her are denying her a shot at motherhood, her resistance threatens to upend the business transaction.

A project conceived after several years of research in which Shin worked and filmed in his second language, the result is an engaging drama that is headlined by compelling turns by veteran theatre actresses Yoon Da-kyung and Kil Hae-yeon as the two adult women. As the scraggy teenage girl traumatized by the abuse of her kin, Ahn is captivating to watch. A brief supporting role by Kim Chang-hwan as the feckless teenage father-to-be is also solid.

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