Kim Hee-jung’s new feature-‘A French Woman’ infuses her experimental approach seamlessly within its bleak environment. Ambiguity is a virtue in this case which rewards us with witnessing everything like a first-hand experience. Due to the very nature of its narration, we are just as scared to trace down her memories as she is.
‘A French Woman’ unfolds largely in an episodic manner. But these episodes are a part of the character’s psyche and not merely a narrative tool. With its purposefully ambiguous nature, the film lets its viewers get on a nightmarish voyage through the mind of its bewildered protagonist. Mira, a middle-aged woman returns to Seoul (her hometown) after living in France for decades. The ambitious-her in the past wanted to achieve a prosperous acting career by learning the craft in the European lands. But, the older-her doesn’t seem to have achieved nearly as she initially aspired to. For the same reason, even when she is hanging out with her older colleagues, their successful ongoing careers in the film make her stay in a shell of resentment.
And during the process of understanding her character, we’re given a few glimpses of her life in France. But in this reality, time isn’t merely to unfold the feeling of loss and regret of her character. It is so fluid that the reality would flip out like eyelids. One moment, she’s drinking with her old mates and just another while she’s having a conversation with her French companion. In this reality, her past keeps creeping in and finds her in awkward yet widely confrontational spaces. Her smiles and giggles are sparse while her face mostly evokes a sense of melancholy. The narrative bleakness is justified largely by the pathos of her character.
There is so much to admire about the film’s cinematography (by Park Jong-hoon) which connects so many gaps of her psyche through its unrelenting darkness. It makes it seem almost as if we are traveling through several tunnels while never completely getting the grasp of what the truth is. The spaces are handled with so much care and effective lighting that they cleverly reflect Mira’s struggle to cope up with her present. The production design deserves a special mention in the world-building for how it never lets the viewer out of her nightmarish universe.
And besides that, the editing done by Cho Hanwool is largely commendable for how it keeps the spirit of the ambiguity intact. The way it unravels is just as painful and poignant for us as much it is for Mira. The way it swiftly transitions between her past and the present makes her vivid character arc come out even more effectively. We wouldn’t have felt her heartache about her downfall half as much if not for another young actress in glory juxtaposing her old self.
The film is beguiling largely because of its narration choices. Thus, ‘A French Woman’ emerges as one of the cinematically superior films from this year.