“Birthday,” a drama examining the after effects of the Sewol ferry sinking in Korea, has been set as the opening film of the Far East Film Festival in Udine. The screening represents the film’s international premiere. It follows shortly after its much anticipated commercial release in its home market on April 3, almost exactly five years after the tragedy that killed 300 passengers, mostly school children.
The disaster had myriad repercussions from the top to the bottom of Korean society. There have been several documentaries on the subject.
“Birthday” depicts the private “anatomy of pain” of a fictional middle-class family ripped apart by the loss of their son. The parents no longer know how to communicate with each other, but must still try to bring up their surviving younger daughter.
Calling the film “an uncompromising narrative,” the festival says: “Suffering speaks the language of petit-bourgeois everyday life, of normality without normality (without) room for facile cinematographic manipulation. (There is) no place for rhetoric, nor for sentimentality.”
The film is directed by Lee Jong-eun, who was previously assistant director on “Poetry.” It is executive produced by “Poetry” and “Burning” director Lee Chang-dong. Jeon Do-yeon, who starred Lee Chang-don’s “Secret Sunshine” plays the wife, while Sul Kyung-gu, another Lee Chang-dong regular, plays the husband. Production companies are Nowfilm, Lee Chang-dong’s Pinehouse Film, and Redpeter Films
The Sewol disaster also brought misery to the Korean film industry. In October 2014, the Busan festival screened a hastily-made and polemical documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol” (aka “Diving Bell”). The film accused the government of the time of being asleep at the wheel, and then covering up the errors of its own making and of its corporate cronies. Sensing an attack on his political allies, the then mayor of Busan took punitive legal action against the festival’s directors, which in turn sparked a boycott of the event by many in the film industry that continued until 2017.
The Udine festival, now in its 21st edition, runs from April 26 to May 4, 2019.