Author Topic: Birthday (2019)  (Read 401 times)

Offline westendboy

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Birthday (2019)
« on: May 27, 2019, 20:54 »


How all of us tackle grief differs.

When my dad passed away some time ago, I remember I was in a daze, everything felt surreal and I couldn’t cry. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt like a spurious son and I started to question myself. But I remember lyrical moments that underscored that tumultuous period, one of which was the long drive from the crematorium to the columbarium. My dad’s cremated remains was with me and my sister, and Emil Chou’s 在云端 came on the radio. In that moment I felt my dad’s presence, reassuring me that he is in a better place. Then a few days later, the dam finally broke. I was watching Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003), a story about how a frustrated son tries to determine fact from fiction in his dying father’s life and I finally wept. I wasn’t crying because of the demise of the movie-dad, my consciousness was all about my dad. Like me, the people that populate the cine-scape of Birthday are all grieving in their own ways. Grief incapacitates the mother and guilt imprisons the father.

Ripped apart by the loss of their eldest son Su-ho (Yoon Chan-young) to the Sewol Ferry tragedy on 16 April 2014, Jung-il (Sol Kyung-gu) and Soon-nam (Jeon Do-yeon) struggle to keep their family together. No longer able to communicate with each other, they must still bring up their surviving daughter Ye-sol (Kim Bo-min).

It’s official – this is the hardest my wifey and I have cried while watching a movie this year. In my opinion, the Chinese title 没有你的生日 carries more emphatic meaning and does more justice than the the English one, Birthday. Literally translated, it means “The Birthday Without You”.

The tragic event of the Sewol ferry disaster, in which 304 people died, many of them high-school students, still looms large and repercussions are still being felt across many guilty parties. Birthday is the first movie that explores the events of the tragedy. Given the subject matter, nobody would fault you for thinking that the cinematic approach would take a big page out of Titanic, but writer-director Lee Jong-un’s sensitive debut chooses to tread on a path less-travelled and by so doing it becomes a movie that will stay with you for a long long time.

This is an assured and confident directorial debut, full of hard-hitting and heart-hitting emotional beats even though it is quiet by nature. Lee Jong-un was assistant director on auteur Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry, an emotionally devastating rumination on a woman’s final grasp on the beauty of life before everything is taken from her. One can see how Lee Jong-un has picked up the filmmaker’s many fine attributes. The screenplay is chock-full of keenly observed character studies and I particularly adore how little nuggets of information are lovingly doled out. A lesser director would have rammed up the histrionics and glossed over all the emotional moments, but Lee’s defiant focus on one family torn apart by the loss of their son is refreshing.

The bulk of the narrative is about how the mother Soon-nam and the father Jung-il handle the loss. Soon-nam is adamant that one should never move on and she detests all the rest who grieve in their own special ways. Jung-il, on the other hand, has to deal with the guilt of not being there when it happened and wants to move on. Both their arcs culminate in the last act where the support group holds a birthday party for the departed Su-ho. When this last act arrives it is practically a tsunami of feels; just make sure you are holding on to some tissues. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Established actress Jeon Do-yeon does the heavy lifting. Her intense grief is not described by scream-fests but by her rigid posture and her defiant stance in the face of utter hopelessness. This isn’t a saintly Mother-of-the-Year portrayal; this is a full-on warts-and-all portrayal of a slowly crumbling mother on the brink of a total meltdown. The scene of her finally breaking down in blood-curdling wailing sobs is particularly heartrending and it culminates to a heartwarming scene where a neighbour shows the husband what she needs to overcome that dreadful moment. Lee even has the audacity to show how the neighbour’s daughter angrily handles the commotion that lends a moment of truth to the whole thing.

This could have been an utterly bleak film and in lesser hands it probably would be. But Lee Jong-un has crafted something miraculous. Birthday is a tender build-up of the heartache of losing a loved one towards something remarkably hopeful.

PS – I learned an important lesson in the prolonged final act – nobody remembers the scholastic, materialistic and monetary accomplishments in the end. It is all about the little moments – how you spent time with a friend who needed it, how you loved the people around you by performing little acts of kindness. Su-ho lived a short life, but it was a full one. How many of us can say that about ourselves?

   
4 / 5

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Online petetherock

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Re: Birthday (2019)
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2019, 22:37 »
Bro
Your reviews continue to amaze, entertain and most of all, strike a chord with many..
I also watched Big Fish and was one of the shows I wanted to show my own dad... but he also left before I could share it with him.. and I was pretty silent until all the proceedings ended and I had time to reflect and weep.

My condolences and also keep writing, and keep well.
Best wishes
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Offline westendboy

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Re: Birthday (2019)
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2019, 07:09 »
Bro
Your reviews continue to amaze, entertain and most of all, strike a chord with many..
I also watched Big Fish and was one of the shows I wanted to show my own dad... but he also left before I could share it with him.. and I was pretty silent until all the proceedings ended and I had time to reflect and weep.

My condolences and also keep writing, and keep well.
Best wishes


Thanks for your kind words.

Actually, I nearly didn’t want to post this review here because it felt a little personal. But the movie is so good that it felt like a sin if I don’t at least persuade one person check it out.
Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

My movie and music blog:
http://reelthoughtsfromageek.wordpress.com

All things books:
http://fictionmattersfromageek.wordpress.com