×

Busan Film Review: ‘Pascha’

Ahn Seong-kyoung's achingly tender story of an unconventional couple and their cat taps into a wellspring of emotions.

With:

Kim So-hee, Sung Ho-jun, Shin Yeon-sook. (Korean dialogue)

The steadfast love a couple showers on their cat and each other underpins “Pascha,” an achingly tender film from South Korean helmer-scribe Ahn Seon-kyoung. Depicting the fragile relationship between a 40-year-old femme and a 19-year-old lad, and how they hold on to each other despite a severe social stigma, Ahn taps into a wellspring of emotions with a fine eye and an exquisitely feminine sensibility. While the result may be too precious and introverted for some, this winner of the Busan Film Festival’s New Currents competition will resonate with cat lovers and female arthouse audiences.

Ga-eul (Kim So-hee), 40, is a struggling screenwriter who gets by making gim-bap (Korean sushi rolls) at a cheap eatery. Her 19-year-old live-in b.f., Dae-hyun (Sung Ho-jun, also the film’s producer), takes odd jobs but can’t hold them down due to his painfully withdrawn personality. But their greatest worry is the illness of their beloved cat Hope, whose veterinarian bills are eating up their savings and driving them to distraction.

Their near-excessive devotion to their pet — shown in a sensuous, poignant yet macabre scene in which they spend the night at a love motel with Hope — hints at the self-enclosed, obsessive nature of their own relationship. Like the stray cats they habitually feed and play with, the protags also live on the fringes of society. Their resolve to be together is tested when Ga-eul discovers she’s pregnant just as Dae-hyun is drafted for military service.

Given how tenderly the protags dote on each other, the intrusion of their respective families feels as rude as a slap in the face. A scene in which vegetarian Ga-eul’s mother (Shin Yeon-sook) harangues her to eat beef segues into a humiliating matchmaking attempt that reflects how little she thinks her daughter’s worth. But that’s just a prelude to the patriarchal despotism of her brother and father, who denounce her relationship as “a crime” and verbally batter her into submission, culminating in a decision that may cause strong audience reactions.

Evoking the couple’s suffering in prolonged fixed frames and uncomfortably tight closeups that magnify their every pained expression, Ahn’s approach is at once self-indulgent and engagingly immersive. Scenes in which the lovers disclose their deepest fears to each other or break down in the face of adversity expose their neediness and lack of fighting spirit, but also underline their total acceptance of each other.

Kim and Sung convey their characters’ deep connection. Androgynous-looking Sung’s timid, gentle demeanor not only makes his dependency on an older woman understandable, but will likely awaken the motherly instinct of many female viewers. Eccentric, neurotic Ga-eul is a bit of a spinster stereotype, but Kim limns her loneliness and desire for tolerance with such honesty and humility that one cannot help but be moved.

The film is set in the dead of winter, and Yu Ji-sun’s limpid, brightly lit lensing conjures a chilly, inhospitable ambience that reinforces the couple’s isolation and melancholy. Though music is barely audible but for a few forlorn piano notes, the romantic strains of a Schumann piano quartet strike a note of modest hope toward the end. Other craft contributions are artfully conceived and exercised. The title reps the Latinized spelling of Passover.

Popular on Variety

Busan Film Review: 'Pascha'

Reviewed at Kofic screening room, Seoul, Aug. 12, 2013. (In Busan Film Festival — New Currents, competing.) Running time: 95 MIN. Original title: "Pa su ka"

Production:

(South Korea) A Curious Cat Films production. Produced by Sung Ho-jun.

Crew:

Directed, written by Ahn Seon-kyoung. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Yu Ji-sun; music, Lee Min-wee; production designer, Kim He-min; sound (Dolby Digital).

With:

Kim So-hee, Sung Ho-jun, Shin Yeon-sook. (Korean dialogue)

More Film

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Jason Lei Howden, Samara Weaving and

    Daniel Radcliffe On Acting With Weapons Nailed To Your Hands

    How did “Guns Akimbo” director and writer Jason Lei Howden convince Daniel Radcliffe to play a character with guns nailed to his hands? Easy, he sent him the script. Radcliffe joined Howden and “Ready or Not’s” breakout star Samara Weaving in the Variety’s Toronto Film Festival studio, presented by AT&T to talk the limits of [...]

  • Box Office: It Chapter Two Maintains

    Box Office: 'It: Chapter Two' Continues International Reign With $47 Million

    Pennywise’s reign of terror hasn’t wavered: Warner Bros.’ “It Chapter Two” maintained first place on box office charts, led by another strong showing overseas. The sequel, based on Stephen King’s horror novel, generated another $47 million at the international box office for a foreign tally of $169 million. After two weeks of release, “It Chapter [...]

  • First still from the set of

    Taika Waititi’s 'Jojo Rabbit' Wins Top Prize at Toronto Film Festival Awards

    Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” has won the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The honor positions the film for a potential Oscar run and bolsters its awards chances. That’s good news for Fox Searchlight, which must have been disappointed by the lackluster critical reception for the movie, a dark comedy [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Racks Up Solid $33 Million Debut, 'Goldfinch' Bombs

    “Hustlers” rolled in the Benjamins this weekend, collecting $33.2 million when it debuted in 3,250 North American theaters. Boosted by rave reviews and stellar word of mouth, “Hustlers” beat expectations and now ranks as the best start for an STX film, along with the biggest live-action opening weekend for stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. [...]

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content