The best kinds of documentary are the ones where the audience and those within the film itself undertake the same journey of discovery, sharing revelations and introspections about a particular topic that ultimately change the perspectives of those both sides of the camera. This is acutely the case with director Park Moon-chil’s My Place, a highly personal account of the director’s own family history and trauma. Director Park explores the inherently Korean cultural clashes of traditional ideology versus the contemporary, Western individualism contrasted with Eastern collectivism, as well as gender and family politics, all through the microcosm of his own family unit. Beginning with very traditional concerns over his unmarried sister’s pregnancy, the documentary charts how every member of the Park family is forced to re-examine themselves, their pasts, and their choices in order to welcome the new member into the fold. From beginning to end My Place is a heartwarming and illuminating film, thanks in no small part to the director’s wonderfully strong and charismatic sister who challenges familial and cultural issues head-on and emerges victorious.
Director Park’s sister Peace is very much the heart and soul of My Place, and the documentary is largely centered around the ramifications of her decision to be a single mother. In Korean culture unwed mothers are heavily stigmatized, and the film begins by attempting to address her perceived irresponsibility and whether abortion is a viable option. Yet as director Park converses about the issue with his parents, he begins to re-evaluate his own understanding of his sisters character through considering their shared history, and by interviewing her about her past and the pregnancy. The technique is superb, as the non-judgmental approach allows for layers of psychology and past traumas to be re-examined, and how they impact the decisions of the present. For instance, the film explores how the siblings were born and raised in Toronto which allowed their individuality and creativity to be nurtured, yet their forced relocation back to Korea at a young age provided an enormous culture shock that was difficult to cope with; the director even noting that school assemblies reminded him of the Nazis. The impact was greatest on Peace however, and the home videos and photographs of her childhood authentically capture her fraught and difficult childhood.
Director Park also applies such frameworks to his mother and father, and in doing so discovers more about what drove them in their youth and what shaped their decision-making processes so long ago. With the revelations of Peace’s unhappy childhood it would be all too easy to blame his parents, and while they indeed acknowledge responsibility for their choices, delving into their history stops the issue from being simple. Such scenes are brilliantly edited within the documentary not only for their seamlessness, but the constantly compelling revelations regarding his parents inspires audience introspection. Each member of the Park household is a fascinating person forged by history, and the loving care that director Park exhibits when filming them is palpable. This particularly applies in regard to Peace, as the directors respect and admiration for his sister clearly grows and develops during the course of the film.
Ironically what forces the family to re-evaluate themselves is the very thing that causes them worry – Peace’s pregnancy. And when her son Soul is born, witnessing the family gathering together and become stronger than ever is extremely poignant. Director Park charts the very early years of Soul’s life in similarly effective style, exploring how each member attempts to find a role in which to provide help and support, and the results are consistently moving, humourous and entertaining. Watching Peace working hard as a single mother, and Soul as he develops a personality of his own, is powerfully absorbing and captured with tenderness and sensitivity. One such scene involves Soul and his grandfather reading a storybook together, and the attempt to bestow morality lessons on the youngster is a beautifully funny moment. Director Park – and the audience – come to realise that the initial concerns over Peace’s pregnancy were unfounded, and that the strength and resilience she exhibits as a single mother are incredibly admirable. As such, My Place is emblematic of changing cultural attitudes, and is a wonderful testament to the love and bonds shared within the family.
My Place is a funny, enlightening, and wonderful documentary about the importance of family. By using his unwed sisters pregnancy as a catalyst, director Park Moon-chil uses his concerns as a springboard in which to explore the history and psychology of his mother, father, and most predominantly his sister Peace. In doing so director Park shares his revelations and changing attitudes with the audience, with each step constantly compelling as the family attempt to heal past traumas in order to welcome the new baby. A superb and lovely documentary.