July 26, 2010
With the addition of director Im Sang-Soo being in attendance, Saturday night’s screening of The Housemaid (Hanyo, 2010) marked my first true festival highlight. Introducing his film, Im Sang-Soo contextualised his filmmaking motivations as criticising Korean society, considering it’s complex and troubled political history. He even suggested that the events of 9/11 and 7/7 were understandable when considered within their own contexts, a provocative yet measured comment considering the bold, intelligent and deeply affecting content of the film that followed.
Moving with ease and precision from an aesthetic of the real to a more seemless, airbrushed view, The Housemaid offers an immediate illustration of Korea’s dramatic socio-economic disparities; a sombre picture indeed. Eun-yi (Do-yeon Jeon) is a young woman struggling to get by until she is taken on as a “housemaid” (or nanny) by an obsequiously wealthy young family. The tragedies truly begin when a naive Eun-yi’s clear lack of social sophistication and presents itself to her cruel employers.
Operating perfectly on every level, The Housemaid is an engrossing drama, a successful allegory and, at times, a haunting black comedy. Im Sang-Soo directs outstanding performances from all of his actors, their acute emotion so intense it’s almost palpable. The mise-en-scene is accurately and carefully detailed, revealing the intense decadence and abhorrent waste of the social elite. Shown alongside an earnest but bleak depiction of Korea’s extreme poverty, the film is appropriately rousing, the demonstration of power abuse absolutely chilling. A stand-out achievement in its truly affecting tone and style, The Housemaid is one to make time for.
The Housemaid screens as part of this year’s MIFF and is screening again Monday 26 July 2010, 9.15pm at The Forum.