Dir: Malene Choi | Writer: Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen | With Thomas Hwan, Karoline Sofie Lee | Doc | Denmark | 85′
Two Danish-Korean adoptees return for the first time to the country of their birth in search of their origins, in this refreshingly thoughtful and quietly devastating arthouse documentary debut from Malene Choi. Based on her own experiences THE RETURN is a stunningly photographed and touchingly resonant meditation on destiny and identity, nature and nurture. Muted visuals and Philip Nicolai Flindt’s subtle sound design lend a dreamlike quality of mystery and alienation to this contemplative study of two young people uprooted from Denmark, the country that has become their home and where they have grown up, and returned to their original their birth lands. Despite this yearned for homecoming, they somehow feel disorientated and thrown into confusion in the search for their biological parents. Both internalise their feelings into discrete expressions of loss, anxiety and sadness. So locked away is their private grief, that they often admit to feeling nothing, but the trauma clearly lives within them, hidden deep in their souls.
Thomas’s story is particularly harrowing as it emerges during the emotionally-charged first meeting with his birth mother that he was actually conceived after a one night stand. Clearly he is devastated, but remains dignified in front of his mother, suppressing the trauma that slowly seeps out in dramatic physical expressions during a trip around Seoul – together with Karoline, where they both let off steam by going boating together and enjoy cocktails. For her part Karoline is less emotionally buttoned up but equally traumatised, especially during a meeting with a hospital adviser who tries to help but simply lacks the necessary resources to further the Korean girl’s inquiries. Clearly she is angry, but also disappointed.
Without resorting to sentimentality or even attempting to create a falsely romantic narrative arc, Choi paints a realistic and utterly convincing portrait of two people who cannot go forward until they have gone back – with satisfaction and closure. MT
ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Now SCREENING DURING London Korean FILM FESTIVAL 2018