Receiving its world premiere at the 2013 14th Jeonju International Film Festival, Lebanon Emotion (레바논 감정) quickly began to earn praise amongst audiences and critics alike. Director Jung Young-heon’s (정영헌) poignant tale of a man unable to come to terms with his mother’s death and a woman on the run is a wonderful dramatic thriller, featuring sincere and moving performances as the complex lives of the characters within become evermore intertwined. The director’s history as a cinematographer is also readily apparent throughout as the film contains some genuinely gorgeous visuals, which also serve to be deeply symbolic of the main protagonists. While a few plot holes and structural imbalances stop it from being a perfect film, with Lebanon Emotion director Jung has established himself as a Korean filmmaker to watch.
Seeking solace at a friend’s country home, a man plans his suicide due to his inability to cope with his mother’s death. Yet while taking a stroll in the mountains he hears the scream of a woman who has stepped on a deer trap, and takes her home to nurse her back to health. As they become more acquainted the unlikely couple start to realize they share several things in common, while the kindness they experience from each other is unprecedented. Yet little do either of them know that the woman’s past is catching up to them in the form of her brutal gangster ex-boyfriend, and he is far from happy.
One of the great strengths of Lebanon Emotion are the themes that it explores through the central protagonists. The grief inhabited by the man is palpable, with his depression and insular mannerisms acutely alluding to his turmoil. His reconstruction of his mother’s death is heartbreakingly poignant, as are his breakdowns when faced with the reality of the situation. Similarly issues of survival are inherent to the woman’s struggle. Fresh out of prison and with nowhere to go, the strength and resilience that she employs are wonderfully conveyed without ever becoming cliche. The contrast between the characters is also a delightful reversal of traditional gendered roles, where the emotional/homestead and physical/drifter realms are exchanged. Such work could be so easily undermined when placing the two characters together, but luckily contrivances are rejected and in its place a complex relationship develops through the slow and natural discovery of each other’s personalities.
The otherworldly landscapes further serve as potent symbolism for the man and woman. The winter environments are stunning and drained of colour, and director Jung makes effective use of locations in regard to each character. While the lack of colour heightens the depression and emotional distress of the man, the snow covered land becomes a challenge for survival for the woman. The area surrounding the country home is a construction site, a place that initially embodies the dismantling of a life yet through the relationship that develops comes to convey the construction of one. Director Jung wisely makes use of each area, adding further surrealism with the inclusion of dream sequences that add even greater insight to not only the protagonists, but also as a comment on the meaning of life.
Yet Lebanon Emotion is not solely concerned with deep, existential issues. The inclusion of the woman’s ex-boyfriend adds incredible tension to the proceedings as he gets ever closer to discovering her location, placing her relationship with the man on a timer. The suspense and tension generated whenever the gangster is on screen is quite chilling, while the brutality that occurs is highly effective due to the threat rather than the action. The danger and impact of such violence on the lives of those involved makes the story continually compelling and engaging, and acts as an interesting debate on the nature of masculinity.
Lebanon Emotion is certainly one of the best films to emerge from the 2013 Jeonju International Film Festival. With an engrossing story involving the nature of grief, the challenges of survival, and the threat of external violence, the film never ceases to be compelling as two seemingly disparate people come together through suffering. Director Jung Young-heon’s keen visual sensibilities are stunningly realised through the lovely cinematography, making for an attractive and insightful film.