Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Berlinale 2014 Review: SPROUT's Short and Sweet Seoul Odyssey

Part of MKC's coverage of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and the 18th Busan International Film Festival.

By Pierce Conran

A little girl’s trip to the market becomes a charming journey through modern Korea in Yoon Ga-eun’s delightful short film Sprout, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival last October. Korean indie cinema often makes a point of demonstrating what’s wrong with society while many of the values most prized by citizens are typically found in the nation’s commercial output, albeit through rose-tinted windows. Thus it has been treat to see some younger, low-budget filmmakers explore the positives of their country in recent years. Films like Koala (2012) have not forgotten the realities of the society they inhabit, but they have also placed the good right alongside the bad.

Sprout, an unassuming yet kaleidoscopic journey through midsummer Seoul’s sundrenched hills and back alleys is such a treat. While preparing offerings for their grandfather’s ancestral rites, a family realizes that they have neglected to buy bean sprouts. Seven-year-old Bora offers to go and fetch them but her mother won’t hear of it, thinking the errand far too dangerous for such a young girl. Of course, armed with her inquisitive spirit and pleasantly sunny disposition, Bora goes off anyway on what turns into a short odyssey through the winding hills of one of Seoul’s older districts, far from the broad, non-descript and modern boulevards of Gangnam.

She of course gets lost along the way and as in any road movie worth its salt, even one so modest as this, she encounters a coterie of vraisemblable characters during her excursion. Richly evocative of the sweltering heat and sweat-inducing humidity of Korea’s summers, the film finds its characters exasperated and exhausted by the weather yet still cheerful in spit of its sticky grip.

Leading this short is the effortlessly adorable Kim Soo-an, a young performer previously seen in last year’s Hide and Seek, who is likely to the melt the hearts of the majority of viewers who lay eyes on her. Though the film seems simple and light-hearted, there is clarity in its vision and pacing, as well as an assiduous selection of the vignettes and characters it chooses to present us with. In perfectly circular fashion, the film ends right where it began, with the initial impetus for the day trip having become scarcely more than a discarded MacGuffin. Short though it may be, there is much to take in during this enchanting and beguiling trip. It may take place within a prosaic frame, yet there’s plenty more to be found by an inquisitive mind beneath all of Sprout’s smiles, day walks and idle chitchat.

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