Thursday, November 27, 2014
Nine-year-old Jin-hee (Sae-ron Kim) is having a great day. Her father, newly remarried after the death of Jin-hee's mother, takes her to buy new clothes and a cake. Then he leaves her at what he says is a Catholic girl's school, promising to return in a few weeks.
But we can feel the truth of it, that this in fact is an orphanage, and we have seen the last of the father. Jin-hee refuses to accept that her father lied, clinging with a child's unwavering faith that he will be back to take her home. She resists the kindness of the nuns, and the other children's attempts to befriend her. She tries everything ... running away, sending a message to her father, withdrawing into her own world.
This largely autobiographical story by writer and director Ounie Lecomte rings heart-breakingly true. One of the older girls at first seems to be tormenting Jin-hee, but is in fact tutoring her on how to survive. She shows Jin-hee how to swallow her pride and make herself more appealing than the other girls when they are all assembled in front of prospective adoptive parents.
A Brand New Life is worth seeing just for the performance of Kim Sae-ron. You'll fall in love with her from the opening minutes, and even if this doesn't sound like your type of story, you'll find yourself absorbed by her journey and amazed at one particular scene in which she is reborn after plunging into the depths of despair.
Director LeCompte's homage in the last frame to the great French director François Truffaut's The 400 Blows is a deft way to end on a subtle message of hope. Adopted by French parents herself, this Korean orphan is letting us know that better things are in store for little Jin-hee in her brand new life.