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San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection.

An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own expectations and the expectations society imposes on them.

Their two young kids Sumin (Moon Seung- a) and Jinho (Choi Junwoo) are surprisingly precocious while coping with the emotional blow and confusion of the aftermath of a divorce.

Sol and Lee’s first feature film exemplifies transforming limitations into advantages. The two female filmmakers observe family drama through sustained and restrained shots that allow the viewer to experience through Sumin’s point of view. A slow and steady pace that displays the intricacies and complexities of family life without passing judgement.

The film hinges on the withholding of information, both in form and storyline. Not only by its refusal to easily fall into a shot/reverse shot set-up, but by what’s left purposely out of frame. When designing the formal approach of the film what was your underlying concept for this family portrait?

Lee: This family doesn’t seem to be in the same room. There is no physical contact as an expression of closeness between parents and children. So, we used the inside and outside of the frame to deploy the characters, and we didn’t show complete faces with reverse shots.

Sol: We wanted to have a feeling of anxiety. So, we chose hand-held photography. And we didn’t break our shots because we wanted to observe stories and situations around us. In other words, it is a movie that follows Sumin’s sentiments, but we didn’t want to show only Sumin on screen. The concept is to use wide-angle lenses in the beginning of the film to show the family of four, but use characters’ movement, especially Sumin, to create a dynamic sensation on the screen. In the latter part, however, Sumin’s medium shots were more likely to focus on the character than in the beginning. Other family figures were only sensed through voice and movement.

You develop an idea of absent parents deeply contrasted by the precocious children that throughout the film show a vast self-awareness. What was your approach when working with such young actors? 

Lee: I was worried whether I could convey to young actors Sumin and Jinho’s feelings, but I explained a lot about the character and the family to them. Then the two of them interpreted each character in their own way. When I asked, they told me, “I interpret it as my heart tells me.” I believed them. All I did was control the tone of the scene and create an environment for young actors to focus on the situation.

As the film progresses, a feeling of creeping isolation sets in as any other social interaction is pushed out of frame. Yet the theme of social dislocation builds in the background as the characters try to keep up appearances for an observing society. Could you comment on this? 

Lee: When writing the story of “Scattered Night,” I wasn’t thinking about the connection between the story and society. In Korea, child rearing is no longer an individual’s concern. Divorced parents are powerless and run into the question of ‘What are you going to do with these remaining children?’ It is interesting that this film has greater scalability than I thought in Korean society. Although it gives the impression of reflecting the reality of the current Korean society, focusing on the theme of barriers in the mind that arises within family relationships was a creative focus rather than an intended reflection on society.

Another theme that is linked again to social status and its benefits. And it’s when teaching that the parents connect with their children. Could you comment?

Sol: Individuals have a need for self-actualization, and self-actualization can be achieved by gaining social status. I think the social benefits that can be enjoyed from status are desires that many individuals have. Who would have thought childcare and housework after marriage would be as difficult as they are in reality?  I feel it’s not easy to have a social life and do housework. If you spend more time at work, it is true that you become negligent in parenting or household chores. It’s a reality that can’t be helped.

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