MOONLIT WINTER (2019)
Melancholy and wistful, a pitch-perfect script gives emotional clout to a pensive tale of a love left to yearn due to societal pressure
A film’s script has a measure of power in its ability to convey meaning without dialogue. How it can tell its story without laboured exchanges and explanations. Moonlit Winter is the perfect combination of allowing powerful moments to linger in silence, yet when words are spoken they have meaning, and weight.
Often low-key, coasting along on its own vibes, it is a film comfortable enough in its own skin to do so. Yet, this is a work about the power of love to persist, across borders, into time.
LGBTQ+ cinema is sometimes marginalised in Korea, proving less popular at shifting cinema tickets, but Moonlit Winter is a film that should be viewed by all. It is an obscenity that a love should be curtailed by the pressure of society and our thirst for traditionalism for traditionalism’s sake.
It will make you happy and sad, then angry, all jumbled into various orders. The setting is chilly, but the interactions are comparatively warm.
Yoon-hee (Kim Hee-ae) lives with her high school student daughter Sae-bom (Kim So-hye). She receives a letter from Jun (Yūko Nakamura), but Sae-bom reads it also and discovers her mother’s secret past.
Jun lives in Otaru, a sleepy village in Japan, with Yoon-hee and Sae-bom deciding they will visit. However, past feelings make it too difficult for Yoon-hee to visit Jun and she instead potters around as a tourist with her daughter.
Sae-bom begins to learn more about what Jun meant to her mother and how those feeling have barely blunted over the years.
Moonlit Winter is further evidence that films simply look better in snow. The closing passages of Lady Vengeance (2005) benefit from this, but it is writ large in Moonlit Winter. How that pure white sheen can bluster fresh air over your skin. How gentle conversations on a snowy walk somehow mean more. The film, on a very narrow basis, is a love letter to the winter season.
It is more about how society has made certainly relationships impossible to achieve, but how this collective societal tutting, this disapproving public side-eye, cannot not extinguish the feeling those people have for each other. Instead, a wistful life of yearning awaits. Of squeezing into the tailored trousers of the expectations of others.
There is no greater task than repressing ourselves and our feelings, and we build a well of empathy for those forced to do so here.
The film builds gently for large parts, beautifully so, allowing the splendour of Otaru’s snow and the affecting dialogue to turn its cogs. There is barely a wasted word across its runtime. Every conversation seems important and there is a scene during the final act where barely a word is exchanged, but you are likely to have your own breath suspended such is its emotional importance.
Snow-strewed and heart-melting, Moonlit Winter might be the finest LGBTQ+ film to come out of Korea. A film with the effecting power to change some persisting outdated views, regardless of where they might still linger across the globe.