Monday, September 1, 2008

Il Mare review

Upon moving into his newly built Il Mare house in 1997, Sung-hyun finds a letter waiting for him in his mailbox, dated 1999. In that year, Eun-ju leaves a letter to the next occupant presenting them with a forwarding address for her mail. Strangely enough, it finds its way to the past, sparking a mysterious and intimate relationship separated by time.

Oddly, Il Mare was released in the same year as Ditto, but presents a more original look at this slowly-losing-its-cleverness premise. Instead of rehashing the ham radio idea from Frequency, the film makes creative use of a mailbox. The premise has its limitations because the conversations can't exist in real-time like in Ditto, but Lee Hyun-seung cleverly directs and edits the film to accentuate this key difference. For these lonely characters, letter writing and reading is paradoxically a social and solo activity and Lee takes advantage of this idea to strengthen the film's themes and structure.

The film is monologue heavy as letters are exchanged and read together to simulate conversation between the two characters. Lee turns these potentially boring scenes into atmospheric montages that engulf us in a mesh of beautiful seaside scenery and melancholy piano scores. These moments make the film magical, contrasting the characters' dreary lives with the little joy the daily letters bring. The scenery even reflects this as the Il Mare house transforms from a lonely house on a desolate dry beach to a gorgeous residence on the water with the high tide.

Il Mare has the uncanny ability to elevate the most insignificant scenes, be it the rush of seeing a character put on earmuffs or simply a tense, long walk as we anticipate the words of the next letter. There are times when we can be as bored as the characters are, when we have those day in the life montages, but they dwindle down soon and don’t seem to matter once the relationship intensifies.

Both actors deliver fine performances. Jeon Ji-Hyun as the peculiarly subdued Eun-ju works quite convincingly. Her quiet lovelorn personality shows her range as an actress. Lee Jung-Jae is good as well and offers us some achingly painful scenes with the utmost awkwardness. The characters are fleshed out and maintain a steady consistency, but this occasionally gets annoying as Eun-ju complains about her lost love. The delivery of her repetitive testaments of it show hints of cleverness and originality but never fully reaches the level it should to engage us, especially with the amount of time spent on the subject.

Given the obvious paradoxes and potentially painful interpretation of time-travel films, Il Mare falls victim to a cop-out and illogical solution during the climax. Most of the plot is handled smoothly enough to keep us from really questioning the logistics of the situation. We just accept it as a magical “love story” and put our focus in the characters. Coupled with the creative use of a simple mailbox, even the cheesiest scenes can make you smile. But the ending could have gone in two distinct directions, and they make a poor decision here. Even so, it is difficult to shake off the emotion and tension of everything leading up to the climax, and those strong feelings do reflect the hold the rest of the film has on us.


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