Endearing yet powerfully bittersweet, a woman seeks friends to crash with after choosing to spend her money on cigarettes and whisky rather than rent
We have all met people that are lively and fun, but underneath that veneer is a melancholy and yearning that we sometimes fail to acknowledge, or perhaps choose to ignore.
Such a description is fitting for both Microhabitat as a film, but also its central character – 30-something Miso, played superbly by Esom, best known for another star-turn in 2014’s Scarlet Innocence.
It is almost instantaneously captivating and charming. One of those films you decide to like from the opening 10 minutes. Funny, yet ultimately tackling rather serious concepts around modern poverty and how close employed people tread to this line every day.
Miso works as a cleaner and lives in a humble studio apartment. Her three great loves are cigarettes, whisky and her boyfriend Han-sol (Ahn Jae-hong), an aspiring comic who is similarly struggling to make a mark.
One day Miso is informed that her rent is rising, placing additional pressure on her already tight budgetary position. When she discovers that her favourite cigarettes have also gone up she sits down to count the pennies. She decides that she is not willing to forego the cigarettes and whisky, but paying no rent seems somewhat appealing.
She decides to leave her apartment and draws up a list of potential friends to stay with, former members of band she played in. This sees Miso check-in on these friends and then shuffle along with no long-term plan in sight.
The film forges a fine balance between the idea that while Miso’s friends are clearly doing better than her and the idea they too are struggling on.
On the first concept, we see friends with a career, comfortable living arrangements and a young family. We also see these friends struggle with illness and relationships falling apart. Is Miso, who remains upbeat and affable, really doing worse than these established figures?
There are some scenes which argue both way, but in other ways we simply witness people finding ways to portray their difficulties as the hardest in the world. One friend who is lovelorn from his wife leaving him discusses how he is now trapped paying off a hefty mortgage for his rather fine looking apartment. Yet he spills these pains in tears to a person who herself is homeless. Most of us would pick a large mortgage over life on the streets.
On a less dramatic level it is about that base awkwardness of staying with friends. Trying to accept their invitation to make yourself at home, while not overstaying your welcome or becoming a nuisance.
The debut feature for Jeon Go-woon, it adds to the growing realisation that the best films of this format in recent years have come from female directors, such as Bora Kim’s House of Hummingbird and Yim Soon-rye’s Little Forest, both from 2018.
Genuinely funny, yet stoic and powerful. Blending styles and tones with ease. Director Joen has mustered a masterful piece of filmmaking.