Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:30 am 
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This quiet, haunting hybrid of documentary and fiction was made by Danish-Korean adoptee Marlene Choi in Korea and focused on the story of two thirtyish Danish Korean adoptees, Karoline (Karoline Sofie Lee) and Thomas (Danish TV actor Thomas Hwan), who come to Korea in search of their origins. Though feeling quite specific, they stand for many. As it turns out, since the Korean War in 1953 South Korea has been a major exporter of babies for adoption, over 200,00 having been raised mainly in Europe and the US.

Karoline arrives at Koroot, a group home specially provided for Korean adoptees. Here Karoline meets Thomas and other visiting Korean adoptees who come from America and communicate in English. A hunky young man from America tells a radical story. This is his second time in Korea. The first time, he immediately felt at home, so much so that when he left, it felt wrong. His adoptive parents objected to his exploration of his origins, and, given a choice between them and that, he has chosen to live in Korea. Like the others, he has not learned the language. Has he ever seen a Korean film? His decision is passionate, instinctive. It may be an emotional reaction to growing up feeling like an outsider. He has no idea what he is getting into but certainly here, he will look like he fits in. It's complicated. He has simplified it.

The visiting adoptees share experiences of being bullied in one way or another for being different, not being white. An older woman adoptee talks about her experiences of finding her biological parents and meeting them. When she met her father, she says she felt nothing. Only later she was very moved by the struggles of her mother, who became disabled relatively young, it turns out. She has returned to spend time with her mother.

Karoline goes to the Holt adoption agency, where the representative offers her little hope of finding out anything. Records were not kept, she says. Thomas says they lie, and offers to go back with her, as they do. Eventually it does emerge from help reading her Korean documents from the agency that she was born in a hospital on a small island off Inchon.

The truly profound scene is the one when Karoline and Thomas go to meet Thomas' biological mother, who has been found. They go with a female interpreter who translates back and forth between Korean and English. Thomas' mother is sweet, plying them with a meal prepared together in a small apartment. He was the result of a quick union with a boy who vanished, when she was very young. Her tale is of heartbreaking regret for having given up Thomas for adoption too hastily.She married, but never had children. All her life she has been haunted by longing to be with him. This quiet, underplayed scene is masterful in administering an emotional wallop with economical means. Realization that this sequence is staged, not "real," may undercut it, but not lessen its almost archetypal emotional power.

The use of staged elements for the framework narrative of the film allows Choi to experiment. The film uses innovative, subtle camerawork, editing, and sound to convey vividly the feeling of excitement and dislocation, of confusion and emotional dissonance Karoline and Thomas feel from first arrival. This helps to strengthen a very thought-provoking film that conveys as well as any movie yet what it is like to be adopted from a far-away country and long to understand and be reunited with one's origins. The writer, Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen, has contributed substantially to giving the dialogue, particularly in Danish, a natural and specific feel.

The Return, 87 mins., debuted at Rotterdam and was reviewed by Screen Anarchy (Paige Lim) and Variety (Alissa Simon) at Göteborg Feb. 2018. Reviewed there for Variety by Alissa Simon .

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