South Korean auteur Roh Gyeong-tae inches closer to conventional storytelling with “Black Dove,” an austere mood piece about the repercussions of a hit-and-run accident. Maintaining tight tonal control over a tale that glides seamlessly between past and present, Roh delivers a cathartic experience for patient viewers, but his minimalist rhythms are unlikely to click with many general auds. Though the pic is much more accessible than the helmer’s experimental features “The Last Dining Table” and “Land of Scarecrows,” its future appears limited to local arthouses and fests following its world preem at Busan.
Told in the form of dual narratives that inevitably meet at a critical juncture, “Black Dove” opens at roughly the midway point. The estranged wife and young daughter of artist Lee Jon-ho (Cho Soo-hyuk) have been hit by an unknown vehicle at an isolated intersection, an incident that leaves Jon-ho struggling to complete work for an exhibition at the new gallery owned by g.f. Min-hee (Ahn Ji-hye), with whom he was trysting at the time of the collision.
Keeping the fate of Jon-ho’s family a mystery until deep into the proceedings, the screenplay introduces Lee Jun-gu (Lim Hyeong-guk), a college professor with clean-freak proclivities who’s stuck in a pitifully loveless marriage to mousey wife Sun-mi (Jeong Yoon-kyung). Although little is said in the Lee household, it’s immediately obvious the couple committed the hit-and-run.
Expertly blending scenes from before and after the accident, pic creates a powerful examination of guilt as it gradually consumes Jon-ho and Sun-mi. Irrationally blaming his relationship with Min-hee as the cause of the accident, Jon-ho lashes out verbally and physically at his lover. Later, he starts working at the coffee shop his wife opened following their breakup, as if that will somehow help repair the damage.
The weight of Sun-mi’s terrible secret takes a much heavier toll. Haunted by visions of blood oozing from walls and suffering from a phantom pregnancy, she watches Jon-ho from a distance before making fateful contact with him. In utterly chilling contrast, Jun-gu shows no remorse; the darkness dwelling in this apparently respectable academic is brought home in a devastating scene few auds will forget.
Finely tuned perfs play a crucial role in keeping willing viewers engaged in an ultra-low-key drama that’s punctuated by sudden bursts of electricity when these troubled characters are able to express pent-up emotions. Jeong Yoon-kyung is particularly impressive as the housewife with almost nothing left to cling to.
Pristine lensing by Lee Sun-young and a beautiful score by Roh’s regular collaborator Jaesin Lee are the standouts of a first-class technical package.