Screenwriter Ga-eul (Kim So-hee (김소희) lives a modest existence, working in dead-end jobs while she attempts to complete her screenplay. The only comforts for the lonely 40 year old are the stray cats she tends to – and often adopts – from the neighbourhood, and her boyfriend Joseph (Sung Ho-jun (성호준). Yet the relationship is quite scandalous as at 23 years her junior, Joseph has yet to complete high school let alone his required military service. Keeping a low-profile the couple continue their relationship unabated, until unexpected complications arise that threaten to drive them apart forever.
Crucial to the success of any romantic-drama is the core relationship. Audiences are fully aware that circumstances will enter the film that will challenge the protagonists, with the enjoyment derived from being so invested in the relationship that they will it to succeed despite the odds. In this sense, Pascha (파스카) falls far, far short of what is required as there is precious little romance or chemistry between Ga-eul and Joseph throughout the entire film. Director Ahn Seon-kyoung (안선경) has decided to enter the relationship well into it’s maturity, which is certainly no bad thing, as she sets up events and situations that are both natural as well as allowing for the sincerity of long-term partners to emerge. Yet even though the relationship is far from conventional such heartfelt emotions never appear, chiefly due to the awkwardness between the two lead actors which is incredibly distracting, particularly by Sung Ho-jun. There is a distance and coldness between them that conveys a mother and son relationship rather than lovers. Joseph’s Oedipal concerns are obviously an issue – hammered home with the song, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” – but scenes such as sharing a bath just appear clumsy and indifferent rather than passionate and intimate.
Pascha‘s most interesting moments lie within scenes involving Ga-eul’s family. When they discover her relationship with the 17 year old, the judgement and criticism Ga-eul receives conveys a deep-rooted misogyny that, even at the age of 40, she must humbly endure. The abuse she suffers is indeed shocking and it is during such moments that actress Kim So-hee shines, displaying the frailty of the nervous and unconfident screenwriter with skill. The pressure enforced upon Ga-eul also leads to film’s very strong – and very graphic – anti-abortion statement, that will likely appall the majority of audiences and outrage many others. Commentators are likely to discuss how far directors could, or rather should, go when it comes to presenting such explicit and visceral portrayals of such a sensitive topic. Yet it is also bizarrely ironic given that the film is so concerned with feminist issues only to undermine one area of debate in such an extreme manner.
It is also unfortunate that director Ahn only begins to show creative flair out of the ashes from such controversial scenes. For the vast majority of the running time the film is an incredibly bland affair featuring a static camera and very little eye-catching cinematography. The uninspiring camerawork and compositions in the early stages of the film do convey the depression, loneliness and solemnity Ga-eul endures, yet such technical issues are rather crude and also suggest directorial inexperience, further detracting from the supposed intimacy between her and Joseph. This is indeed strange as director Ahn’s capabilities are impressive and wholly apparent during the film’s final scenes, a genuine shame as the relationship sorely requires such visual prowess much much earlier to be convincing and effective. As such Pascha is a romantic-drama that is ironically not memorable for its central couple or the relationship, but for the debate on ‘how far is too far?’ in representations of sensitive subject matter.
In the attempt to convey the scandalous relationship between a 40 year old screenwriter and her 17 year old boyfriend, Pascha falls far short of other romantic dramas. The awkwardness and indifference displayed by the actors ultimately ruins any tension for when the relationship is predictably threatened. Yet director Ahn Seon-kyoung does well when examining the issues of misogyny endured by the central protagonist. Ironically however, Pascha, is not memorable for the scandalous relationship but for the explicit representation of abortion, which will likely upset critics and audiences alike.