Film Review: Il Mare (Siworae)

   Much of Modern Korean Cinema has, at its heart, a desire to transcend time to put right mistakes of the past. Often this will take place in the form of action films (2009: Lost Memories, for example) or even romantic dramas ( The Classic ) and is usually inspired by the Korean, culturally specific emotion Han - an existential feeling of profound melancholy inspired by a history of being wronged often combined with pained, futile hope.

   Il Mare (Siworae) offers a novel twist on this premise - one which may seem familiar to those who have seen the more famous American remake The Lakehouse .

  Eun-joo (the inimitable Jun Ji-hyun) and Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae) are a lonely pair who, broken-hearted, find themselves drawn to one another slowly, attracted to one another's warmth. Their bond grows through written correspondence and, even though they have never met, a savvy romantic film audience would predict the pair will end up with one another, happily ever after.

   Rather than class, career or any other extraneous circumstance threatening to draw a wedge between them, however, the pair find themselves unable to meet one another - stranded in the same location, a house by the sea, but separated by time. They stay connected by a magical postbox which sends their communications through streams of years into each other's warm embrace. Imagine You've Got Mail meets Somewhere In Time but not entirely atrocious.

   To look at Il Mare is an astonishing treat - Hong Gyeong-po lenses Lee Hyeun-seung's film with a radiant beauty, pastel landscapes reflecting the desolate isolation of our lost romantic leads. As Eun-joo and Sung-hyun spend much of the time alone, the scenery often acts as an additional, complimentary character. Endless rain, thunder and shadows represented the inner turmoil of characters in German expressionism; here the vast, placid, immovable expanses of oceans act in much the same way. Trying to trace the lines of infinite emotions subtly etched on Eun-joo's face by Jun Ji-hyun (a sublime actress who is the antithesis of Sandra Bullock in every conceivable way) is like seeking patterns in the waves - mesmerising as they change, overwhelming and profound in a manner words would struggle to explain.

   A tranquil and meditative romance, almost entirely the opposite to the fast-moving melodramas often associated with the genre, Il Mare manages the rare feat of balancing lovelorn sentimentality with philosophical and dramatic tension. Before the pair have even met, and without knowing if such an event is possible, each possesses regrets of the past which threaten to tear them apart - both characters, each marvelously portrayed with morose understanding, have to confront the pains inside themselves as much as those in the world around them if they are to succeed.

   An inward facing drama of restraint, Lee's patience, coupled with Hong's incredible cinematography, combine to create a film which is much more than the sum of its parts. An eloquent and elegant movie.

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